If you were expecting a speech with no connection to the real economic problems we face and no concern about our crippling debt, then President Obama’s State of the Union did not disappoint. The president seems intent on taxing more and spending more — except on national defense.
He got the questions right at least, asking:
A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs – that must be the North Star that guides our efforts. Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?
Alas, Obama doesn’t grasp that what he proposes is unrelated to job growth or counterproductive. He equates economic revival with increasing government, which if true would put us in economic comfort, not negative growth. And he of course could not resist his favorite straw men:
“The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem. They don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party. They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can. For they know that America moves forward only when we do so together; and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.”
At least he impugned his opponents with a lighter touch than is his wont.
Obama asserted we had already cut $2.5 trillion in debt, but then began to wheel and deal on the sequester, representing nearly $1 trillion of the spending reduction, by suggesting more taxes. And of course, he keeps spending so the debt has now ballooned to over $16 trillion. (The RNC helpfully blasted out an email telling us our share was $52,000 per person.) Apparently in the president’s world, there never really are any spending cuts:
“And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms – otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations. But we can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful. We won’t grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, cops, and firefighters. Most Americans – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – understand that we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share. And that’s the approach I offer tonight.”
In fact what he offered were taxes and a vague reference to Simpson Bowles’s Medicare proposals, which in fact offered no structural Medicare reform.
Then it was on to more spending, this time as the way, he insisted, “ to attract more jobs to our shores” and “equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs.” At least he was candid that it was recycled. (“A year and a half ago, I put forward an American Jobs Act that independent economists said would create more than one million new jobs.”)
Rather than encourage energy development, he launched into a job killing climate change initiative, something which a Democratic House and Democratic Senate refused to pass in the first term. This is another non-starter, merely a bone thrown to the left. It has nothing to do with growing the economy and creating jobs; quite the opposite. And if that were not enough, he proposed to hike minimum wage, an idea his onetime economic adviser Larry Summers rightly labeled as a job killer. This is a president with no clue how to encourage the private sector. As for the one move that actually would create jobs, he was silent on approval of the Keystone pipeline.
Despite his promise to make sure any “additional proposals that are fully paid” and that he wanted only “smarter government” his proposals all consisted of new expansions of government and new spending. A new energy fund! Universal pre-school! More college loans! Redesigned high schools! Manufacturing hubs!
There was nothing he wanted to cut, eliminate or send to the states. Moreover, you have to wonder why he is still pushing for tax hikes if his programs are all paid for. (Or are more taxes needed to pay for the new spending?) If he’s not adding to the debt why do his own budgets see the debt balloon in the next decade? This is more of the same — spend, tax, and inhibit private sector growth. No wonder our economy is limping along.
If his domestic agenda was warmed-over Great Society, his foreign policy was straight out of the McGovern handbook. After forty minutes of his spend-a-thon list, he laid out his new troop drawdown and announced “our war in Afghanistan will be over. “ But not the war, of course. Obama acknowledged al-Qaeda was a threat in North Africa, but suggested we can do counterterrorism on the cheap. He oddly proposed that we would do so without the need to “occupy” other countries. Is that what our troops are doing?
And in terms likely to cheer leaders in Iran, he announced that “the leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.” No wonder the mullahs are confident we won’t act.
He mouthed platitudes about human rights but did not tie them to Russia, China or Egypt. On Syria he lamely suggested, “We will keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people, and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian.” These weak words were all that 60,000 dead Syrians could provoke.
And then there was his half-hearted anti-gun plea. (“Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote.”) He then went into high drama, declaring that Gabby Giffords and others deserved a vote. (What say you Mr. Reid? You go first.), singling out the Chicago gun victim’s family and pulling the heartstrings on Newtown. But for all that emotional excess and resort to human props there seemed to be little muscle behind actual legislation. In fact, what Obama cares most about is far from the economy and unlikely to get through even the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The sole subject on which there seemed to be hope was on immigration, where he praised the Gang of 8.
Like his inaugural speech, Tuesday’s address has no bearing on the real legislative agenda nor on our economic situation. The debt is crushing the economy, yet the president spends with abandon. Growth remains anemic, yet he raises taxes and labor costs. We are flush with energy, yet he strangles the economy with uber-regulation. And we face a world of threats, yet he hollows out the military. It was a standard issue wish list, with little poetry or uplift, and even less smart policy.