Obama's 2010 State of the Union address fact-checked

Thursday, January 28, 2010; A08

"We've excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions. But we cannot stop there. It's time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my administration or Congress."

ANALYSIS

Some good-government advocates say the Obama administration's rules on lobbyists, while well-intended, have limited value and unintended consequences. Some Washington power brokers skirt the rules by simply declining to register as lobbyists, even when their day-to-day work is often hard to distinguish from lobbying.

Former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, for instance, works for a major Washington lobbying firm, Alston & Bird, but navigates around the rules that would require him to register as a lobbyist. The declining tally of registered lobbyists since Congress passed lobbying reforms in 2007 suggests that many similar firms have taken a similar approach.

Meanwhile, the rules have meant that the White House has had to turn away some well-regarded people who lobby on behalf of non-corporate causes.

"We cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95 percent of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time home buyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college. As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas and food and other necessities. . . . And we haven't raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person."

ANALYSIS

The Obama administration did cut taxes for most families as part of the stimulus package, which included more than $100 billion in "Making Work Pay" tax cuts for lower- and middle-income families. The reason that he had to emphasize the tax cut Wednesday, though, is that many are unaware they received it because it was spread out across the year in people's paychecks instead of given in a single lump sum.

The thinking behind that approach was that it would make people more likely to spend the money, instead of squirreling it away. But the downside is that, for many, the tax cut remained under the radar.

President Obama has proposed raising income taxes on the wealthy in the coming years. He also favors the taxing of certain health insurance plans -- which could be passed on to some employees in the form of higher premiums.

"North Korea now faces increased isolation and stronger sanctions -- sanctions that are being vigorously enforced. . . . That is why the international community is more united and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated. And as Iran's leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: They, too, will face growing consequences."

ANALYSIS

Obama skips lightly over the fact that his efforts to engage rogue nations have largely fallen flat.

North Korea last year tested a nuclear weapon and tested missiles, and Obama has been unable to coax it back to six-nation disarmament talks.

And Iran has proven deeply disappointing to administration officials. Obama issued an unusual message at the Persian new year; wrote two letters to the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; and made a bold offer to assist Iran with an ailing medical research reactor. Yet his outreach to end three decades of estrangement has been greeted with indifference or scorn by Tehran's leaders.

Obama claims the "international community is more united" but does not mention that China, a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, is highly skeptical of new sanctions.

"I've called for a bipartisan fiscal commission, modeled on a proposal by Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Kent Conrad. . . . The commission will have to provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline. Yesterday, the Senate blocked a bill that would have created this commission. So I will issue an executive order that will allow us to go forward."

ANALYSIS

Obama did not mention the credibility problems that a commission created by executive order would face, even among Democrats who support the idea. Deficit hawks, in particular, have challenged whether such a committee's recommendations would be guaranteed an up-or-down vote in Congress, and Obama and House leaders have thus far been unable to satisfy that concern.

A larger problem is the threat by key Republicans to boycott the panel. Gregg, a senator from New Hampshire and an ardent advocate of a fiscal commission, has derided a presidentially appointed commission as little more than political cover for Democrats on the deficit.

Regardless of how such a commission is formed, it would not make its recommendations -- and lawmakers would not have to take a position on potentially painful tax hikes and spending cuts in popular social programs -- until after November's midterm elections.

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