What topics should be in Obama's State of the Union address?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Post asked business leaders, policy experts and others to name an issue that President Obama should include in his Jan. 25 State of the Union address. Below are responses from Maya MacGuineas, Drew Altman, Howard Dean, Frances Beinecke, Robert L. Reynolds, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Frank Sharry, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Jamie Radtke, Ed Rogers, Bob Lehrman and Matthew Dowd.


President of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

President Obama should make controlling the national debt the central theme of his speech. He should go big, not small, and lay the foundation for viable compromises.

The president's fiscal commission offered a plan to reduce the debt by $4 trillion. Obama should build on that momentum - not just talk about pay freezes or incremental tax reforms - by calling for passage of a comprehensive plan this year (to be phased in gradually) with everything on the table. His plans need to reflect political balance, not just be an opening bid for Republicans to react to, which would turn budget reform into even more of a political punching bag. On Social Security for instance, he shouldn't stick to stale talk of raising taxes on the rich alone but should include a balanced proposal with a moderate means test, retirement age increase, cost-of-living fixes and new revenue. Yup, that is something for everyone to hate, but that's what it's going to take.

Obama is certain to emphasize that cutting the deficit too quickly would harm the economy. True. But so, too, would failing to put a plan in place, leaving uncertainty to hinder the economic recovery and increasing the risk of an outright fiscal crisis. He needs to emphasize debt reduction as part of his economic recovery strategy, not use the economy as an excuse to delay.


President and chief executive of the Kaiser Family Foundation

The president's overarching challenge is how to rise above the Washington politics the public is so frustrated with and still fight hard for his policies. On health reform the fireworks will be in Washington, but much of the work of implementing last year's law will be done by the states. Focusing on working with states, while sticking strongly to the core goals and protections of the law, would build allies and give the president an opportunity to align himself with the pragmatism more typical of the states.

Another opportunity is to become consumers' defender in chief against giant hikes in health premiums. This problem can be blamed unfairly on health reform, or the administration can use its platform to lead the offensive in scrutinizing unpopular premium increases.

The president needs to get behind deficit reduction, but proposals to cap spending growth could have profoundly negative effects on the people served by Medicare and Medicaid, depending on how it is done. Almost half of all seniors and disabled people on Medicare have incomes of less than $21,000 per year. The president has an opportunity to be for deficit reduction and speak for people on these programs at the same time. It is both good policy and good politics to tell seniors that while spending reductions may be necessary he has their back.

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