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Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address: an accounting

at 06:02 AM ET, 01/23/2012


(Associated Press)

Every president announces a slew of initiatives in his State of the Union address. Here, in order of delivery, is a summary of the key proposals, pledges or priorities announced by Obama a year ago —and what happened to them.

When we did this exercise a year ago, Obama had an impressive success rate in 2010, which was a clear benefit of having commanding majorities in both houses of Congress. We predicted then that with Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives, his batting average in 2011 was sure to fall, and this accounting demonstrates that to be the case. In this election year, one can expect even more gridlock and stalled initiatives.

The Proposals

Obama: “We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -- an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.”

The administration’s budget ideas were dead on arrival in 2011, with House Republicans especially targeting the administration’s plans to spend more on clean energy technology. The high-profile bankruptcy of Solyndra, for which the administration had guaranteed $535 million in loans, certainly did not help matters. The House and Senate both cut the administration’s clean-energy proposals, though the Democratic-controlled Senate was more sympathetic.

Obama: “With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.”

Obama’s proposal to eliminate tax breaks for oil companies has gone nowhere in Congress. His goal of 1 million electric vehicles by 2015 is also lagging. Nissan and Chevrolet, which produced the first electric vehicles for sale in the United States, both missed their 2011 sales targets.


Obama: “And over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.”

Too soon to tell, obviously, but a group led by Carnegie Corporation of New York, Opportunity Equation, the NewSchools Venture Fund, and the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation—called the 100k in 10—has taken up the president’s challenge.


Obama: “I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit –- worth $10,000 for four years of college.”

The American Opportunity Tax Credit, which will expire at the end of this year, has not yet been made permanent.

Obama: “I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows.”

The DREAM Act, which would have given permanent residency to some illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors, failed to advance in the Senate at the end of 2010. Since then, the battle lines between Republicans and Democrats on this issue have become even sharper.


Obama: “We’ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. We’ll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based [on] what’s best for the economy, not politicians.”

Obama proposed a new jobs bill in the fall and campaigned hard for it, but his ideas were largely rejected in the Congress.

Obama: “Tonight, I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years –- without adding to our deficit. It can be done.”

No progress was made in reducing corporate tax rates or simplifying the tax system.

Obama: “Last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs. This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor, Democrats and Republicans -- and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible.”

Despite his demand that this trade deal be passed “as soon as possible,” Obama actually delayed sending it to Congress for months as the two parties battled over Trade Adjustment Assistance legislation for workers and companies affected by free trade. But, in a rare bipartisan achievement, a deal finally was reached and Congress approved free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia.

Obama: “To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I’ve ordered a review of government regulations. When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them.”

Every president claims they will cut down on government regulations. Republicans complain that Obama has imposed excessive regulations but a review by Bloomberg News in October found that he has approved fewer regulations than his George W. Bush at this same point in their tenures, and the estimated costs of those rules haven’t reached the annual peak set in fiscal 1992 under Bush’s father.

Obama: “If you have ideas about how to improve this [health care] law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you. We can start right now by correcting a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses.”

The so-called 1099 provision was quickly repealed by Congress and Obama signed the change into law.

Obama: “I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. Now, this would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.”

Republicans rejected this cut as inadequate and forced to president to accept even deeper cuts during the impasse over the debt ceiling. But a congressional subcommittee failed to reach agreement on how to achieve these cuts, which in theory will force automatic defense spending cuts that neither side finds acceptable.

Obama: “I’m willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year — medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.”

Obama’s budget did call for $250 million in state grants to revamp medical malpractice laws, but there is little consensus between Democrats and Republicans on the issue.

Obama: “To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations.”

No progress was made on strengthening Social Security. Some argue that Obama’s extension of the payroll tax holiday will actually weaken it.

Obama: “And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply can’t afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break.”

Republicans have adamantly refused to accept higher tax rates on wealthier Americans, even after Senate Democrats modified the tax hike to only affect annual incomes over $1 million.

Obama: “In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America. I will submit that proposal to Congress for a vote –- and we will push to get it passed.”

Obama actually did not formally unveil this proposal until a few days ago. (Aides claimed they had been distracted by contingency planning for a possible government shutdown and the debt ceiling impasse.) So we are rating this as incomplete since Congress has not acted on it.

Obama: “Because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren’t larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this: If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it. I will veto it.”

None of the spending bills passed by Congress contained earnarks so the president did not have to use his veto pen.

Obama: “The Iraq war is coming to an end. …This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.”

U.S. troops left Iraq in December and the troop surge in Afghanistan began drawing down in 2011, as Obama had pledged.

Obama: “In Pakistan, al Qaeda’s leadership is under more pressure than at any point since 2001. Their leaders and operatives are being removed from the battlefield. Their safe havens are shrinking. And we’ve sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe: We will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you.”

One wonders if, when he said these words, the president already had an inkling that Osama bin Laden might have been located in a secret compound in Pakistan. On May 1, Obama announced that U.S. forces had killed the elusive leader of al Qaeda. Mission accomplished.

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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