“We do big things”
As Democrats and Republicans sat side by side in the House Chamber instead of parting the aisles by red and blue, President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address address on Tuesday evening. His message was mostly upbeat and inspirational in tone, alluding to the great American Dream that anything is possible and because of that, he, the Congress and all of us will be able to move the country forward.
Obama unveiled his plan to create new jobs, new industries and reward hard work. Through innovation, education and rebuilding the nation, Obama sees a brighter and better America.
“We need to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world,” Obama said.
He called for cuts in spending: a continuation of the current freeze on federal employee salaries, promised military cuts from the Secretary of Defense and even a reduction in community action programs. He proposed freezing all domestic discretionary spending for the next five years, which amounts to 12 percent of the budget. He even promised that bills that came to his desk with earmarks will be vetoed.
But while he’s proposing cuts, Obama wants increased government spending in biomedical research, information technology and clean energy technology. Some of the funding for these innovative industries would come from the end of government subsidies to oil companies.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.”
Obama called this time our “generation’s Sputnik moment,” challenging scientists and engineers to find solutions, after which the government will fund those “Apollo” projects.
On education, Obama called upon citizens to hold teachers in a higher regard and encouraged students to enter the teaching profession.
On the issue of rebuilding our nation, Obama focused on infrastructure. He cited a need for road and bridge rebuilding, a redoubling of the effort to expand high-speed rail across the nation and to improve Internet and wireless communication.
“Within the next five years, we will make it possible for business to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98% of all Americans,” he said.
This initiative will expand opportunities for job growth in rural areas, small businesses and innovative industries. He added that improved communication will allow firefighters to download building blueprints to assist in fighting fires or allow doctors to meet with patients over large distances.
For all this innovation, education and rebuilding to work, he said, the obstacles to them have to be removed. Obama promised to work with Congress to cut the corporate income tax rate, bringing it more in line with other nations and remove regulations that are an unncessary burden on business but maintain safeguards that protect American consumers and workers.
Obama challenged Congress to be more transparent in their dealings with lobbyists, asking them to post their meetings with them on the Internet. He cited that he has done the same in regards to White House visitors and his “No Lobbyists” rule for administration officials. However, Obama’s staff has regularly met with lobbyists outside of the White House at Washington-area coffee shops.
Paul Ryan, giving the Republican response, said since Obama took office, government spending has increased 25 percent, or 84 percent if all stimulus spending is included. And he opposed the idea of Obama and Washington deciding what industries are innovative and which should grow or not.
“Washington should not pick winners or losers,” Ryan said.
Ryan praised the spending cuts Obama called for, but he said they didn’t go far enough or limit government.
“Whether sold as ‘stimulus’ or repackaged as ‘investment,’ (Democrats’) actions show they want a federal government that controls too much, taxes too much and spends too much in order to do too much,” Ryan said. “And during the last two years, that is exactly what we have gotten – along with record deficits and debt – to the point where the President is now urging Congress to increase the debt limit.”
He warned Americans if the government doesn’t turn course and cut spending drastically now, even more difficult cuts will be required when our economy falls into the disrepair being felt in Ireland, Greece and the United Kingdom.
In a new twist, Michele Bachmann (R-MN) offered a Tea Party response to the President’s remarks. Not new that it was given, third parties have often issued responses, but new because CNN chose to televise it and other new outlets acknowledged it.
Bachmann explained that she was asked by the Tea Party Express to speak to their members and despite rumors that the GOP leadership was annoyed by her actions, she had their full blessing. She compared it to the way all members of Congress go to the microphones immediately after the President’s address to give their opinions.
In her address, Bachmann attacked the President’s stimulus program, which she said failed to produce jobs and was funded with borrowed money. And she pointed to the federal debt, which has risen from $10 trillion prior to the 2008 election to $13.5 trillion as of Sept. 2010.
“Well, what did we buy? Instead of a leaner, smarter government, we bought a bureaucracy that now tells us which lightbulbs to buy and which may put 16,500 IRS agents in charge of policing President Obama’s health care bill,” Bachmann said. “Obamacare mandates and penalties may even force many job creators to just stop offering health insurance altogether, unless, of course, yours is one of the more than 222 privileged companies, or unions, that’s already received a government waiver under Obamacare.”
Instead of new spending, Bachmann’s suggestions for improving the economy included stopping the proposed EPA cap-and-trade legislation, support for the balanced budget amendment, the full repeal of the Health Care Reform Act with market-based reforms in its place, and to cut the corporate income tax rate, as also suggested by the President.
Overall, Obama’s remarks were more to the middle than they have been in the past two addresses. He called for corporate tax cuts and no more earmarks – something for the Republicans, while asking for the end of tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent of taxpayers and the redirection of oil subsidies to green energy, pleasing his Democratic base.
His centrist remarks, along with the Democrats and Republicans mixed seating arrangement, limited the usual partisan outbursts of applause. And there was no screams of “You lie!” this year. Welcome to the new tone, at least between the two major parties, in Washington.