2010 Annotated State of the Union Address
Jan. 25, 2010
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Click on the red links at left to take a closer look at President Obama's 2010 State of the Union address through commentary from expert voices, NewsHour videos, background notes and more. The text of the remarks below is as prepared for delivery and released by the White House.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Madame Speaker, Vice President Biden, Members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:
Our Constitution declares that from time to time, the President shall give to Congress information about the state of our union. For 220 years, our leaders have fulfilled this duty. They have done so during periods of prosperity and tranquility. And they have done so in the midst of war and depression; at moments of great strife and great struggle.
It's tempting to look back on these moments and assume that our progress was inevitable - that America was always destined to succeed. But when the Union was turned back at Bull Run and the Allies first landed at Omaha Beach, victory was very much in doubt. When the market crashed on Black Tuesday and civil rights marchers were beaten on Bloody Sunday, the future was anything but certain. These were times that tested the courage of our convictions, and the strength of our union. And despite all our divisions and disagreements; our hesitations and our fears; America prevailed because we chose to move forward as one nation, and one people.
Again, we are tested. And again, we must answer history's call.
One year ago, I took office amid two wars, an economy rocked by severe recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse, and a government deeply in debt. Experts from across the political spectrum warned that if we did not act, we might face a second depression. So we acted - immediately and aggressively. And one year later, the worst of the storm has passed.
But the devastation remains. One in 10 Americans still cannot find work. Many businesses have shuttered. Home values have declined. Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard. For those who had already known poverty, life has become that much harder.
This recession has also compounded the burdens that America's families have been dealing with for decades - the burden of working harder and longer for less; of being unable to save enough to retire or help kids with college.
So I know the anxieties that are out there right now. They're not new. These struggles are the reason I ran for President. These struggles are what I've witnessed for years in places like Elkhart, Ind., and Galesburg, Ill. I hear about them in the letters that I read each night. The toughest to read are those written by children - asking why they have to move from their home, or when their mom or dad will be able to go back to work.
For these Americans and so many others, change has not come fast enough. Some are frustrated; some are angry. They don't understand why it seems like bad behavior on Wall Street is rewarded but hard work on Main Street isn't; or why Washington has been unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems. They are tired of the partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness. They know we can't afford it. Not now.
So we face big and difficult challenges. And what the American people hope - what they deserve - is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics. For while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds, different stories and different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared. A job that pays the bills. A chance to get ahead. Most of all, the ability to give their children a better life.
You know what else they share? They share a stubborn resilience in the face of adversity. After one of the most difficult years in our history, they remain busy building cars and teaching kids; starting businesses and going back to school. They're coaching little league and helping their neighbors. As one woman wrote me, "We are strained but hopeful, struggling but encouraged."
It is because of this spirit - this great decency and great strength - that I have never been more hopeful about America's future than I am tonight. Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up. We do not quit. We do not allow fear or division to break our spirit. In this new decade, it's time the American people get a government that matches their decency; that embodies their strength.
And tonight, I'd like to talk about how together, we can deliver on that promise.
It begins with our economy.
Our most urgent task upon taking office was to shore up the same banks that helped cause this crisis. It was not easy to do. And if there's one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, it's that we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal.
But when I ran for President, I promised I wouldn't just do what was popular - I would do what was necessary. And if we had allowed the meltdown of the financial system, unemployment might be double what it is today. More businesses would certainly have closed. More homes would have surely been lost.
So I supported the last administration's efforts to create the financial rescue program. And when we took the program over, we made it more transparent and accountable. As a result, the markets are now stabilized, and we have recovered most of the money we spent on the banks.
To recover the rest, I have proposed a fee on the biggest banks. I know Wall Street isn't keen on this idea, but if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need.
As we stabilized the financial system, we also took steps to get our economy growing again, save as many jobs as possible, and help Americans who had become unemployed.
That's why we extended or increased unemployment benefits for more than 18 million Americans; made health insurance 65% cheaper for families who get their coverage through COBRA; and passed 25 different tax cuts.
Let me repeat: we cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95% of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. 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, all of which helped businesses keep more workers. And we haven't raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person. Not a single dime.
Because of the steps we took, there are about 2 million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed: 200,000 work in construction and clean energy, 300,000 are teachers and other education workers. Tens of thousands are cops, firefighters, correctional officers, and first responders. And we are on track to add another one and a half million jobs to this total by the end of the year.
The plan that has made all of this possible, from the tax cuts to the jobs, is the Recovery Act. That's right - the Recovery Act, also known as the Stimulus Bill. Economists on the left and the right say that this bill has helped saved jobs and avert disaster. But you don't have to take their word for it.
Talk to the small business in Phoenix that will triple its workforce because of the Recovery Act.
Talk to the window manufacturer in Philadelphia who said he used to be skeptical about the Recovery Act, until he had to add two more work shifts just because of the business it created.
Talk to the single teacher raising two kids who was told by her principal in the last week of school that because of the Recovery Act, she wouldn't be laid off after all.
There are stories like this all across America. And after two years of recession, the economy is growing again. Retirement funds have started to gain back some of their value. Businesses are beginning to invest again, and slowly some are starting to hire again.
But I realize that for every success story, there are other stories, of men and women who wake up with the anguish of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from; who send out resumes week after week and hear nothing in response. That is why jobs must be our number one focus in 2010, and that is why I am calling for a new jobs bill tonight.
Now, the true engine of job creation in this country will always be America's businesses. But government can create the conditions necessary for businesses to expand and hire more workers.
We should start where most new jobs do - in small businesses, companies that begin when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, or a worker decides its time she became her own boss.
Through sheer grit and determination, these companies have weathered the recession and are ready to grow. But when you talk to small business owners in places like Allentown, Pennsylvania or Elyria, Ohio, you find out that even though banks on Wall Street are lending again, they are mostly lending to bigger companies. But financing remains difficult for small business owners across the country.
So tonight, I'm proposing that we take $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat. I am also proposing a new small business tax credit - one that will go to over one million small businesses who hire new workers or raise wages. While we're at it, let's also eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment; and provide a tax incentive for all businesses, large and small, to invest in new plants and equipment.
Next, we can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow. From the first railroads to the interstate highway system, our nation has always been built to compete. There's no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products.
Tomorrow, I'll visit Tampa, Fla., where workers will soon break ground on a new high-speed railroad funded by the Recovery Act. There are projects like that all across this country that will create jobs and help our nation move goods, services, and information. We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities, and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy efficient, which supports clean energy jobs. And to encourage these and other businesses to stay within our borders, it's time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs in the United States of America.
The House has passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps. As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same. People are out of work. They are hurting. They need our help. And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.
But the truth is, these steps still won't make up for the 7 million jobs we've lost over the last two years. The only way to move to full employment is to lay a new foundation for long-term economic growth, and finally address the problems that America's families have confronted for years.
We cannot afford another so-called economic "expansion" like the one from last decade - what some call the "lost decade" - where jobs grew more slowly than during any prior expansion; where the income of the average American household declined while the cost of health care and tuition reached record highs; where prosperity was built on a housing bubble and financial speculation.
From the day I took office, I have been told that addressing our larger challenges is too ambitious - that such efforts would be too contentious, that our political system is too gridlocked, and that we should just put things on hold for awhile.
For those who make these claims, I have one simple question:
How long should we wait? How long should America put its future on hold?
You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse. Meanwhile, China's not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany's not waiting. India's not waiting. These nations aren't standing still. These nations aren't playing for second place. They're putting more emphasis on math and science. They're rebuilding their infrastructure. They are making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs.
Well I do not accept second-place for the United States of America. As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may be, it's time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth.
One place to start is serious financial reform. Look, I am not interested in punishing banks, I'm interested in protecting our economy. A strong, healthy financial market makes it possible for businesses to access credit and create new jobs. It channels the savings of families into investments that raise incomes. But that can only happen if we guard against the same recklessness that nearly brought down our entire economy.
We need to make sure consumers and middle-class families have the information they need to make financial decisions. We can't allow financial institutions, including those that take your deposits, to take risks that threaten the whole economy.
The House has already passed financial reform with many of these changes. And the lobbyists are already trying to kill it. Well, we cannot let them win this fight. And if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back.
Next, we need to encourage American innovation. Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history - an investment that could lead to the world's cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched. And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy. You can see the results of last year's investment in clean energy - in the North Carolina company that will create 1,200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced batteries; or in the California business that will put 1,000 people to work making solar panels.
But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.
I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. This year, I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate. I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy; and I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future - because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.
Third, we need to export more of our goods. Because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America. So tonight, we set a new goal: We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America. To help meet this goal, we're launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with national security.
We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are. If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores. But realizing those benefits also means enforcing those agreements so our trading partners play by the rules. And that's why we will continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets, and why we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea, Panama and Colombia.
Fourth, we need to invest in the skills and education of our people.
This year, we have broken through the stalemate between left and right by launching a national competition to improve our schools. The idea here is simple: instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success. Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform - reform that raises student achievement, inspires students to excel in math and science, and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to inner-cities. In the 21st century, one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education. In this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than their potential.
When we renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we will work with Congress to expand these reforms to all fifty states. Still, in this economy, a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good job. I urge the Senate to follow the House and pass a bill that will revitalize our community colleges, which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families. To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer-subsidies that go to banks for student loans. Instead, let's take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants. And let's tell another one million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only ten percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after twenty years - and forgiven after ten years if they choose a career in public service. Because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college. And it's time for colleges and universities to get serious about cutting their own costs - because they too have a responsibility to help solve this problem.
Now, the price of college tuition is just one of the burdens facing the middle-class. That's why last year I asked Vice President Biden to chair a task force on Middle-Class Families. That's why we're nearly doubling the child care tax credit, and making it easier to save for retirement by giving every worker access to a retirement account and expanding the tax credit for those who start a nest egg. That's why we're working to lift the value of a family's single largest investment - their home. The steps we took last year to shore up the housing market have allowed millions of Americans to take out new loans and save an average of $1,500 on mortgage payments. This year, we will step up re-financing so that homeowners can move into more affordable mortgages. And it is precisely to relieve the burden on middle-class families that we still need health insurance reform.
Now let's be clear - I did not choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt. And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn't take on health care because it was good politics.
I took on health care because of the stories I've heard from Americans with pre-existing conditions whose lives depend on getting coverage; patients who've been denied coverage; and families - even those with insurance - who are just one illness away from financial ruin.
After nearly a century of trying, we are closer than ever to bringing more security to the lives of so many Americans. The approach we've taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry. It would give small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market. It would require every insurance plan to cover preventive care. And by the way, I want to acknowledge our first lady, Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make our kids healthier.
Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan. It would reduce costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses. And according to the Congressional Budget Office - the independent organization that both parties have cited as the official scorekeeper for Congress - our approach would bring down the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades.
Still, this is a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became. I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people. And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, this process left most Americans wondering what's in it for them.
But I also know this problem is not going away. By the time I'm finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber.
As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we've proposed. There's a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo. But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Here's what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.
Now, even as health care reform would reduce our deficit, it's not enough to dig us out of a massive fiscal hole in which we find ourselves. It's a challenge that makes all others that much harder to solve, and one that's been subject to a lot of political posturing.
So let me start the discussion of government spending by setting the record straight. At the beginning of the last decade, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. By the time I took office, we had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. That was before I walked in the door.
Now if we had taken office in ordinary times, I would have liked nothing more than to start bringing down the deficit. But we took office amid a crisis, and our efforts to prevent a second Depression have added another $1 trillion to our national debt.
I am absolutely convinced that was the right thing to do. But families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same. So tonight, I'm proposing specific steps to pay for the $1 trillion that it took to rescue the economy last year.
Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don't. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will.
We will continue to go through the budget line by line to eliminate programs that we can't afford and don't work. We've already identified $20 billion in savings for next year. To help working families, we will extend our middle-class tax cuts. But at a time of record deficits, we will not continue tax cuts for oil companies, investment fund managers, and those making over $250,000 a year. We just can't afford it.
Now, even after paying for what we spent on my watch, we will still face the massive deficit we had when I took office. More importantly, the cost of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will continue to skyrocket. That's why I've called for a bipartisan, Fiscal Commission, modeled on a proposal by Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Kent Conrad. This can't be one of those Washington gimmicks that lets us pretend we solved a problem. 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, because I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans. And when the vote comes tomorrow, the Senate should restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason why we had record surpluses in the 1990s.
I know that some in my own party will argue that we cannot address the deficit or freeze government spending when so many are still hurting. I agree, which is why this freeze will not take effect until next year, when the economy is stronger. But understand - if we do not take meaningful steps to rein in our debt, it could damage our markets, increase the cost of borrowing, and jeopardize our recovery - all of which could have an even worse effect on our job growth and family incomes.
From some on the right, I expect we'll hear a different argument - that if we just make fewer investments in our people, extend tax cuts for wealthier Americans, eliminate more regulations, and maintain the status quo on health care, our deficits will go away. The problem is, that's what we did for eight years. That's what helped lead us into this crisis. It's what helped lead to these deficits. And we cannot do it again.
Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it's time to try something new. Let's invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let's meet our responsibility to the citizens who sent us here. Let's try common sense.
To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust - deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; and to give our people the government they deserve.
That's what I came to Washington to do. That's why - for the first time in history - my Administration posts our White House visitors online. And that's why we've excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.
But we can't stop there. It's time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress. And it's time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office. Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests - including foreign corporations - to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that's why I'm urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.
I'm also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform. You have trimmed some of this spending and embraced some meaningful change. But restoring the public trust demands more. For example, some members of Congress post some earmark requests online. Tonight, I'm calling on Congress to publish all earmark requests on a single website before there's a vote so that the American people can see how their money is being spent.
Of course, none of these reforms will even happen if we don't also reform how we work with one another.
Now, I am not naive. I never thought the mere fact of my election would usher in peace, harmony, and some post-partisan era. I knew that both parties have fed divisions that are deeply entrenched. And on some issues, there are simply philosophical differences that will always cause us to part ways. These disagreements, about the role of government in our lives, about our national priorities and our national security, have been taking place for over two hundred years. They are the very essence of our democracy.
But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent - a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can. The confirmation of well-qualified public servants should not be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual Senators. Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of the game. But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government.
So no, I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics. I know it's an election year. And after last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern. To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let's show the American people that we can do it together. This week, I'll be addressing a meeting of the House Republicans. And I would like to begin monthly meetings with both the Democratic and Republican leadership. I know you can't wait.
Throughout our history, no issue has united this country more than our security. Sadly, some of the unity we felt after 9/11 has dissipated. We can argue all we want about who's to blame for this, but I am not interested in re-litigating the past. I know that all of us love this country. All of us are committed to its defense. So let's put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough. Let's reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values. Let's leave behind the fear and division, and do what it takes to defend our nation and forge a more hopeful future - for America and the world.
That is the work we began last year. Since the day I took office, we have renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our nation. We have made substantial investments in our homeland security and disrupted plots that threatened to take American lives. We are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security, and swifter action on our intelligence. We have prohibited torture and strengthened partnerships from the Pacific to South Asia to the Arabian Peninsula. And in the last year, hundreds of Al Qaeda's fighters and affiliates, including many senior leaders, have been captured or killed - far more than in 2008.
In Afghanistan, we are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home. We will reward good governance, reduce corruption, and support the rights of all Afghans - men and women alike. We are joined by allies and partners who have increased their own commitment, and who will come together tomorrow in London to reaffirm our common purpose. There will be difficult days ahead. But I am confident we will succeed.
As we take the fight to al-Qaida, we are responsibly leaving Iraq to its people. As a candidate, I promised that I would end this war, and that is what I am doing as President. We will have all of our combat troops out of Iraq by the end of this August. We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity. But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.
Tonight, all of our men and women in uniform -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world - must know that they have our respect, our gratitude, and our full support. And just as they must have the resources they need in war, we all have a responsibility to support them when they come home. That is why we made the largest increase in investments for veterans in decades. That is why we are building a 21st century VA. And that is why Michelle has joined with Jill Biden to forge a national commitment to support military families.
Even as we prosecute two wars, we are also confronting perhaps the greatest danger to the American people - the threat of nuclear weapons. I have embraced the vision of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan through a strategy that reverses the spread of these weapons, and seeks a world without them. To reduce our stockpiles and launchers, while ensuring our deterrent, the United States and Russia are completing negotiations on the farthest-reaching arms control treaty in nearly two decades. And at April's Nuclear Security Summit, we will bring forty-four nations together behind a clear goal: securing all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years, so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists.
These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of these weapons. That is why 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.
That is the leadership that we are providing - engagement that advances the common security and prosperity of all people. We are working through the G-20 to sustain a lasting global recovery. We are working with Muslim communities around the world to promote science, education and innovation. We have gone from a bystander to a leader in the fight against climate change. We are helping developing countries to feed themselves, and continuing the fight against HIV/AIDS. And we are launching a new initiative that will give us the capacity to respond faster and more effectively to bio-terrorism or an infectious disease - a plan that will counter threats at home, and strengthen public health abroad.
As we have for over sixty years, America takes these actions because our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores. But we also do it because it is right. That is why, as we meet here tonight, over 10,000 Americans are working with many nations to help the people of Haiti recover and rebuild. That is why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; and we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity.
Abroad, America's greatest source of strength has always been our ideals. The same is true at home. We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution: the notion that we are all created equal, that no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law you should be protected by it; that if you adhere to our common values you should be treated no different than anyone else.
We must continually renew this promise. My Administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination. We finally strengthened our laws to protect against crimes driven by hate. This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. We are going to crack down on violations of equal pay laws - so that women get equal pay for an equal day's work. And we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system - to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nations.
In the end, it is our ideals, our values, that built America - values that allowed us to forge a nation made up of immigrants from every corner of the globe; values that drive our citizens still. Every day, Americans meet their responsibilities to their families and their employers. Time and again, they lend a hand to their neighbors and give back to their country. They take pride in their labor, and are generous in spirit. These aren't Republican values or Democratic values they're living by; business values or labor values. They are American values.
Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions - our corporations, our media, and yes, our government - still reflect these same values. Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people's doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.
No wonder there's so much cynicism out there.
No wonder there's so much disappointment.
I campaigned on the promise of change - change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren't sure if they still believe we can change - or at least, that I can deliver it.
But remember this - I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone. Democracy in a nation of three hundred million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That's just how it is.
Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths. We can do what's necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what's best for the next generation.
But I also know this: if people had made that decision 50 years ago or 100 years ago or 200 years ago, we wouldn't be here tonight. The only reason we are is because generations of Americans were unafraid to do what was hard; to do what was needed even when success was uncertain; to do what it took to keep the dream of this nation alive for their children and grandchildren.
Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved. But I wake up every day knowing that they are nothing compared to the setbacks that families all across this country have faced this year. And what keeps me going - what keeps me fighting - is that despite all these setbacks, that spirit of determination and optimism - that fundamental decency that has always been at the core of the American people - lives on.
It lives on in the struggling small business owner who wrote to me of his company, "None of us," he said, "...are willing to consider, even slightly, that we might fail."
It lives on in the woman who said that even though she and her neighbors have felt the pain of recession, "We are strong. We are resilient. We are American."
It lives on in the 8-year old boy in Louisiana, who just sent me his allowance and asked if I would give it to the people of Haiti. And it lives on in all the Americans who've dropped everything to go some place they've never been and pull people they've never known from rubble, prompting chants of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A!" when another life was saved.
The spirit that has sustained this nation for more than two centuries lives on in you, its people.
We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don't quit. I don't quit. Let's seize this moment - to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.
Thank you. God Bless You. And God Bless the United States of America.
Michael Beschloss is a presidential historian and a frequent guest on the NewsHour.
Steven Clemons is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation.
Chris Collins is the vice president and director of public policy at amFAR.
Brad DeLong is professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of the blog, Grasping Reality with Opposable Thumbs.
Thomas Donnelly is the director of the Center for Defense Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
John F. (Jack) Jennings is President and CEO of the Center on Education Policy. From 1967 to 1994 he worked as subcommittee staff director and then as general counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Education and Labor.
Peniel Joseph is a history professor at Tufts University and a frequent NewsHour guest.
Robert Kagan is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Robert Laszewski is president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates Inc. and is a former COO of a health and group benefits insurer.
Maya MacGuineas is president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget at the New America Foundation.
Walter Russell Mead
Walter Russell Mead is a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Todd Moss is vice president for corporate affairs and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development
Mariam A. Nawabi
Mariam A. Nawabi is president and CEO of AMDi International, an international consulting firm working on economic development and rule of law projects in Afghanistan.
Diane Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University and author of the forthcoming book "The Death and Life of the Great American School System."
Bruce Riedel is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former CIA officer.
David Smick is editor of The International Economy magazine and author of The World Is Curved: Hidden Dangers to the Global Economy.
Susan Tierney is a co-chair of the National Commission on Energy Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Peter Wallison is Arthur F. Burns Fellow in Financial Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
Daniel J. Weiss
Daniel Weiss is senior fellow and director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress.
Judy Woodruff is a senior correspondent for the PBS NewsHour.
President Obama has gone on the offensive for his first major State of the Union speech. Not only does he insist that his embattled health care bill is part of an overall effort to jumpstart the economy, he has listed the tangible impact of last year's controversial stimulus package.
I wonder where this unemployment number came from? I haven't seen anything suggesting another 10 percent of unemployment -- 4 percent maybe...
I think he is right on this. In hindsight, it surely wasn't a perfect policy, (how could it have been -- it was crafted in record time under extremely uncertain conditions), and it certainly wasn't a popular one. But to many of us, it appeared necessary, and I think it was courageous and reflected real leadership.
NewsHour Background: Apr. 21, 2009 | TARP Report Warns of Taxpayer Risk in Bank Rescue Plan
This is an idea I never would have thought would have flown in the past, but I think it will probably pass. Lobbyists were caught by surprise, and are sharpening their knives for this fight. It is not a great tax, but it sure has a great narrative.
I know Wall Street isn't keen on this idea, but if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need.
Attacking the big banks makes for good politics and the Wall Street bonuses are indefensible. Be that as it may, the president needed to explain how he is going cajole the big banks to lend again. Our largest 20 banks control 60 percent of all bank assets, yet they aren't lending. They are borrowing from the Federal Reserve and buying government securities. As a result, many U.S. companies remain credit starved. This crucial issue remains unaddressed in the speech.
NewsHour Background: Jan. 14, 2010 | Big Banks Brace for Major Tax Hike
The New York Times: Feb. 9, 2009 | Stimulus Talks Set to Continue After Centrists Push Cuts
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes $20 billion in clean energy tax cuts for wind and solar power investments, and the purchase of ultra efficient cars. For instance, these tax cuts helped the wind industry build nearly 10,000 megawatts of new wind energy capacity, enough clean electricity to power 2.4 million homes.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is the largest clean energy bill. It invests $70 billion in energy efficiency, wind and solar power, advanced battery research, public transit, high speed rail, and other clean energy technologies.
ARRA will create nearly 900,000 new clean energy jobs. It will double renewable electricity, weatherize one million homes, double the capacity to manufacture wind turbines and other clean energy equipment.
New York Times: Mar. 12, 2009 | Remarks by the President at Recovery Act Implementation Conference
Which raises the question of why Obama isn't extending and enlarging it. If the stimulus bill was causing interest rates to go up and that was retarding investment, then there is a case for not enlarging and extending the ARRA. But interest rates aren't rising. And yet Obama isn't extending and enlarging the ARRA. Big mistake...
Christian Science Monitor: Dec. 16, 2009 | Second stimulus? U.S. House passes $154 billion jobs bill
The president is right on the mark in identifying small businesses as the creator of 80 percent of net new jobs. But the speech fails to condition the American people for the difficult task ahead in job creation.
To bring the unemployment rate from 10 percent down to 5 percent over the next five years (not an unreasonable goal), we'd need to create 250,000 net new jobs a month, every month, for five years. The average monthly job creation the last two decades was only 90,000. The American people should not be misled to think the job situation will turn around soon.
$30 billion - I commend the president for trying to find offsets for new policies, but this money should be repaid to the Treasury, not re-purposed.
Tax cuts sure are fun aren't they? One of the only things both sides of the room stand for. But how are we going to pay for all of this? The country is already overloaded with debt and on an unsustainable fiscal path.
Haven't seen any paper suggesting that these measures would be effective yet -- and the Carter-era new hires tax credit was a disappointment.
The restriction of the new hires tax credit to small businesses cannot be a good move...
I'm predisposed to like an equipment investment tax credit as relatively effective at boosting investment and employment -- but again, I haven't seen any paper on this yet, and I should have.
NewsHour Background: Dec. 22, 2009 | For Community Banks, Survival Can Often Trump Lending
The president couldn't have been clearer in calling for a renewed spirit of bipartisanship in Congress. He rightly identified the need to find middle ground among political differences, to help American companies create jobs, to modernize our nation's infrastructure, and to improve our posture in the global economy.
While this harkened back to his campaign themes from more than a year ago, the appeal is still current today. And it falls squarely in the middle of our national values. (Even Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell highlighted the same clean-energy themes, in his remarks on behalf of the Republican Response.)
China, Germany, and other nations are racing ahead of us to develop and produce the clean energy technologies of the future. The investments sparked by ARRA and reducing carbon pollution will help the United States keep up this race.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Jan. 27, 1010 | Obama Will Invest Billions in High-Speed Rail Projects
These investments promise to provide genuine job growth - and benefits to American households and businesses.
ARRA provides $8 billion to invest in high speed rail projects.
St. Petersburg Times: Jan. 27, 2010 | Obama will announce funding for high-speed rail in Tampa
China is now a world leader in solar, wind, electric cars, and high speed rail technologies. For instance, China is the leading producer of solar PV cells even though the technology was invented and perfected in the United States. Between 1995 and 2005, the U.S. market share of PV cell production dropped from 45 percent to under 10 percent.
China isn't proposing a domestic spending 'freeze' either...
Financial reform passed the House by a narrow margin and is in trouble in the Senate not because of lobbyists, but because it is another effort -- like health care -- to take control of a portion of the economy without sound reason. The financial crisis was caused by government housing policies -- mostly pushed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- that larded our financial system with 26 million subprime and other high risk mortgages. An unprecedented number. The defaults on these mortgages caused the financial crisis and the recession. The administration, from the time it took office, has been trying to use the financial crisis as a pretext to regulate the financial system as a whole. The Senate is correct to resist this idea, especially when the regulation of banks didn't prevent the banks from taking dangerous risks on mortgages.
ARRA invests over $3 billion in advanced battery research.
Offshore oil drilling is no panacea for our oil dependence. The Department of Energy determined that even drilling for oil and gas in the newly opened Outer Continental Shelf and the expansion of shale gas production would still require liquid fuel imports of 45 percent in 2035. The most cost effective solution is to reduce demand for oil by making cars and trucks much more efficient, and transition to cleaner fuels including electricity, natural gas, and advanced clean bio fuels.
It's not just a question of the upside benefits that a comprehensive, bipartisan climate and energy bill could mean for the economy. It's also an issue of whether we can "afford" the alternative: waiting another year or more for such legislation. It's realistic to think that "doing nothing” will be very expensive.
This is because Congressional inaction would not really mean that nothing would happen. Rather, it would mean that we will face the real costs of much-more expensive and uncertain traditional pollution controls, and the real costs of an unknown number of nuisance lawsuits filed in courts around the country.
The President is right in calling for what Americans need: a bipartisan, comprehensive energy and climate bill, providing for the next chapter of our nation's leadership in the global economy.
The American Clean Energy and Security Act would create jobs, increase American energy independence, cut pollution and make the U.S. more competitive. A study by the University of Massachusetts determined that ACES, combined with ARRA, would create a net of 1.7 million new jobs. According to the Congressional Budget Office, this bill would cost the average family less than $15 per month. And the least well off Americans would receive a net benefit of $120 annually.
Despite the accusations hurled by big oil funded organizations, global warming is real and is here. The U.S. Global Change Research Program — begun under President Bush — concluded that "Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced." NASA determined that the 2000's was the warmest decade on record. Last year was tied for the warmest year on record.
James Murdoch of News Corporation (owner of Fox News) agrees. He wrote, "You do not need to believe that all climate science is settled or every prediction or model is perfect to understand the benefits of limiting pollution and transforming our energy policies -- as a gradually declining cap on carbon pollution would do. This is the moment to champion policies that yield new industries, healthy competition, cleaner air and water, freedom from petroleum politics and reduced costs for businesses."
Conservative Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) noted that "energy security is a short and long-term job creator for our country. Clean air is a shared value by both parties and all Americans."
Sounds great. I believe in trade and exchange too. But China today looks like the Google of nations -- with a political weight and consequence in global affairs not based on what its assets really are today but what the promise of China will likely be in future years. America, in contrast, is perceived to be a very big, well-branded, underperforming asset -- something like General Motors or Xerox.
To pump up exports is great -- but the only way to do that, in real terms, is to get the surplus nations of the world -- China, Japan, and Germany -- to buy. We have been working on Japan for 25 years. Germany is resisting us. China is still in a neo-mercantilist mode, and saves roughly 50 percent of every dollar that comes into the country. I applaud Barack Obama's convictions here, but I don't have faith in the sincerity of his ability to deliver action and results.
President Obama is surely right that "we need to invest in the skills and education of our people." Unfortunately the national competition that the Obama administration has launched -- known as the "Race to the Top" does not match the rhetoric. What the administration is actually doing is embracing the Republican agenda of choice and accountability, thus continuing to promote the same failed approaches as the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act. There was a time, about a decade ago, when the Democratic agenda was equity and professionalization, as contrasted with the GOP agenda of choice and accountability. Sadly, the Obama agenda is no different from that of George W. Bush's education agenda.
For example, the Race to the Top awards points to states that remove all legal barrier to the privatization of public schools. These schools, called charter schools, receive public dollars but are managed by private entities. Charter schools have been compared to regular public schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress since 2003. They have never produced better results than regular public schools. Yet the Obama administration has joined with GOP and conservative groups to demand that more public schools be turned over to private managers.
Similarly the Obama administration's definition of "reform" means a heavy reliance on testing and data. The Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has often said that the current tests are not good tests, yet the administration intends that states should rely on these bad tests to evaluate students, teachers, and schools.
The Obama administration urges states and districts to "turn around" so-called failing schools, but both Chicago and New York City have done this by closing neighborhood schools and opening new schools that turn away low-performing students. A recent study in Chicago found that nearly half the students in the old schools--those that were closed--were sent to other "failing" schools.
This is not reform. This is a managerial and organizational scheme in which children are treated as numbers and schooling is reduced to data points. The only thing that matters is test scores in reading and math. Other subjects--the non-tested subjects--are ignored. America will not have a great education system if we systematically ignore science, the arts, history, literature, and foreign languages.
NewsHour Background: Dec. 17, 2009 | NEA President Outlines Union's View of 'Race to the Top' Program
NewsHour Background: Dec. 15, 2009 | Secretary Duncan: Finish Line Nears for Race to the Top
Regarding President Obama's program to bring reforms to elementary and secondary schools, he is right that his ideas have support from right and left groups because they are a combination of strategies whose separate elements are attractive to conservatives and liberals. The ones who have concerns are the traditional education groups and maybe ordinary educators who don't see much in these ideas to help them.
NewsHour Background: Jan. 19, 2010 | Race for Education Funding Poses a Test for States
His hope is to extend these education reforms when Congress renews the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, but his careful phrasing is a signal that he realizes that this renewal will not occur this year.
His second idea for a community college bill makes a lot of sense. That is a set of schools attended by half of those in post-secondary education and yet their needs have been overlooked for years by the federal government. These colleges are especially important for people with lesser means.
His third proposal -- to take away subsidies to banks -- is opposed by the banks, naturally. But joined with a tax change it could bring relief to middle-class people going to college or sending their children to college. That bill, like the community college bill, has passed the House and is in the Senate waiting for action on the budget reconciliation bill.
A long list of (reasonably) small ticket items - a pretty smart strategy given the needs but fiscal constraints facing the country.
NewsHour Background: Jan. 7, 2009 | As Costs Rise, Businesses Struggle to Provide Worker Health Insurance
NewsHour Background: Jan. 5, 2009 | Even Insured Patients Struggle as Health Care Costs Rise
NewsHour Background: Dec. 21, 2009 | Profiles: How Could Health Care Reform Affect You?
As Yogi Berra said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."
The President came to a fork in the road tonight on health care reform. Would he do what many liberals have demanded -- push harder to pass the Democratic health care bills? Or, do as many moderate Democrats and some Republicans have called for -- work to get a smaller but bipartisan health care bill?
Listening to his speech he seems to be taking both forks. Continue pushing the Democratic plans: "As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we've proposed. There's a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo."
Looking for a bipartisan approach: "But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Here's what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people."
The President came to that fork in the road tonight and instead of giving Congress a clear sense of where he was willing to put his remaining political capital he just took the fork in the road.
In the wake of the President's State of the Union Address, we have no better idea just where he wants to lead his party, the entire Congress, or the country on health care reform.
The President signalled that he is ready to help Congress finish health care reform, but he did not lay out a specific legislative pathway in the speech. I hope he's doing that behind the scenes.
He did remind us why all Americans should support reform, and why, without new market rules that only the federal government can set, we will not really change insurance markets enough. He linked the hard work of delivery reform to strengthening Medicare and lowering premiums for families and small businesses, and to getting our fiscal house in order in the long run.
He also acknowledged personal responsibility for some of the confusion that many of the American people share about what's really in this bill, responsibility for not explaining the provisions clearly enough.
The question remains, will he make it clear that he will go the extra 10 miles in talking to the American people so that members in both chambers will feel comfortable enough to support the reform bills that are far better than the status quo and are feasible right now? That is one key question for the reform effort and this presidency that will be answered in the coming days.
Finally, this point is made clear. For too long, health reform advocates tried to make the case that health care reform is budget reform, as if fixing one would fix the other. Not true, it will take a lot more.
We'll be fact-checking this at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
That's an interesting way to frame it. That was stimulus, usually you borrow stimulus dollars. It is all the future policies (extending the 2001/03 tax cuts, patching the AMT, reforming the Medicare pay patch, in addition to closing the structural deficits, and dealing with growing entitlements) that we need to figure out how to pay for. Nonetheless, all savings are welcome!
Great! That adds some teeth to his promise.
The politics of a spending freeze could be difficult. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, reflecting the longstanding beliefs of most in her party, already has protested that if there is to be a freeze on domestic programs that military programs should feel the same chill: "We're not here to protect defense contractors."
Fiscally, there's little reward: saving $20 billion in a $3 trillion budget is trivial. Militarily, a freeze wouldn't prevent further force-structure reductions or program cuts.
NewsHour Background: Jan. 26, 2010 | Could a 3-Year Spending Freeze Help the U.S. Deficit?
Oh boy. If the stimulus package was good policy, this is political posturing. If this veto threat is good policy, the stimulus package was political posturing. Very bad sign...
Framing it like this is not helpful -- ultimately, taxes will have to up for more than just these groups and the president should be more straightforward about this.
While moving in the right direction, the proposed budget freeze is economically meaningless. It saves $15 billion out of a deficit amounting to $1.3 trillion. The freeze applies to only 17 percent of government spending.
The president instead needed to offer straight talk to the American people -- that within a decade or less, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, America could go broke if it doesn't confront its fiscal situation. This section of the speech needed far more urgency -- indeed a call to arms with bold action.
I really hope Republicans come to support this idea - it will only work if there is real bipartisan buy-in. I'd prefer [the pay-as-you-go law] if it didn't exempt so many existing policies such as extending tax cuts and alternative minimum tax reform.
NewsHour Background: Jan. 26, 2010 | Could a 3-Year Spending Freeze Help the U.S. Deficit
I think the president just joined the Announcement Effect Club.
Now this is confused. Fiscal 2011 begins in October -- this year, when the unemployment rate is still projected to be near 10 percent. But Peter Orszag says the 'freeze' applies to fiscal 2011 -- and is not delayed until fiscal 2012, which starts in October 2011.
The economy is not going to be meaningfully stronger when fiscal 2011 starts than it is now.
Either there are some wires crossed, or a lot of people in the White House don't know when fiscal years begin...
Or we might also hear about a different vision, such as the plan Congressman Paul Ryan offered today, which would drastically reduce government spending. The deficits are too high under this plan, but they are a big improvement from the path we are on today.
I am disappointed in the President for cutting so many deals with the powerful health care special interests that limited the hits they would take in any reform bill --and in turn guaranteed they wouldn't attack the bill. The drug industry, which limited its contributions with its deal, the union sweetheart deal that exempted unions from the "Cadillac" high-cost benefits tax, the hospital deal they were happy to live with, the secret White House negotiations just the week before the Massachusetts vote...
But tonight, he is happy to criticize the same special interests who had the "outsized influence" because he let them into his back room!
President Obama is right -- we must end the outsized influence of lobbyists who are trying to defeat clean energy jobs legislation to keep their profits high. Big oil lobbyists and other special interests are spending millions of dollars to pressure legislators to vote against investments in wind and solar power, and reductions in global warming pollution that dirty our air and water. Big oil companies spent over $110 million lobbying Congress in 2009 -- much of this to defeat clean energy reforms.
NewsHour Background: Jan. 21, 2010 | Supreme Court Ruling Could Reshape Political Landscape
The Supreme Court ruling to open the floodgates for special interest campaign cash could make it difficult -- if not impossible -- to adopt measures that protect people from air and water pollution, contaminated food, or gas guzzling vehicles. The big five oil companies -- BP, Chevron*, ConocPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell -- made a combined profit of $100 billion in 2008. These companies could spend one percent of these profits -- $1 billion, more than was spent in the 2008 presidential campaign -- to defeat senators who dared to vote to require that they reduce their pollution or clean up their spills. And there is already some evidence that some "grassroots" opposition to clean energy legislation was funded by foreign oil states. Just imagine if they could spend billions of dollars to defeat candidates. We must keep big oil and foreign campaign dollars from choosing our leaders.
*Editor's note: For the record, Chevron is a NewsHour corporate funder.
Haven't we heard these promises from President Obama before on earmarks? It feels like deja vu from both John McCain and Obama before he entered office.
Since the beginning of 2009 alone, federal spending has jumped a whopping 20 percent. Harping on earmarks seems a distraction in light of the coming fiscal Armageddon now predicted by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Even if we ended all earmarks tomorrow, America would still face a public debt nightmare.
Information is power. Providing more of it sooner to the public and press can help them distinguish between worthy projects and useless pork. As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, "Sunshine is the best disinfectant."
As a political independent, I couldn't agree more.
NewsHour Background: Dec. 15, 2009 | Democrats Inch Closer to Sweeping Health Care Overhaul
Obama continues to outline his commitment to bipartisanship here. Very similar to Ronald Reagan in 1982 who derided critics who said he could not get along with a Democratic Congress. It's also a warning to both parties that the American people want them to pass important and meaningful legislation that is forged out of compromise. It remains to be seen if this will be enough, especially in an election year, to convince members of Congress that it's in their own interest to pass legislation rather than simply stand in the way as obstructionists. Unlike Reagan, who had the support of a unified Republican Party and managed to peel off conservative Democrats, Obama has a fractured Democratic Party and a remarkably unified Republican opposition.
I watched tonight's State of the Union address with a dozen smart, accomplished women with wide experience in the world -- including writers, journalists, a film-maker, two businesswomen, a lawyer and an international activist. And we all were struck by two notable, even abrupt, shifts by the president when it came to matters of war and peace.
First, and most striking, was his change in emphasis: Foreign affairs barely got a mention. Steering a sharp course correction overseas had been a central focus of President Obama's first year in office, on a par with the financial crisis and health care reform. He took the two wars he inherited from President Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan, and flipped them in priority. He devoted months in consultation with his national security team to devise a new Afghan strategy. He worked overtime to shore up relations with weary allies and wary adversaries, spending more days abroad in his first year than President Bush did in his last two years in office combined. Yet tonight, the president devoted just nine out of 70 minutes to the entire field of foreign affairs.
Equally striking, though not as obvious, was the shift in tone. A year ago, he was emphasizing his outreach to the Muslim world, to China, to the Middle East, to Russia and even to Iran. The phrase “war on terror” was banned from the White House lexicon. Tonight, when the president finally turned to national security and foreign affairs, his first sentence was, “We have renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our nation.” He boasted that in 2009, his administration had captured or killed hundreds of al Qaeda fighters and leaders, “far more than in 2008.” And he warned senior figures in the Iranian regime, who have not reciprocated his overtures on their nuclear program, that there would be “growing consequences” if they “continue to ignore their obligations.”
This may not be surprising at a time when polls -- and the Massachusetts Senate race results -- show the public thinks he hasn't spent enough time addressing their economic plight, and is newly anxious about terrorism. But his shift is remarkable nonetheless. Presidents usually devote more time to foreign affairs the longer they are in office. Tonight Mr. Obama showed he intends to reverse that pattern this year -- at least until the next foreign emergency breaks out. If the Christmas Day bomb plot and the post-New Year's Haiti earthquake are any guide, that could come sooner than he thinks.
NewsHour Background: Dec. 24, 2009 | Airstrike in Yemen Targets Terror Operatives
The president made clear as he has all year that the clear and present danger abroad is al Qaeda. His response (hinted at)is to strike back with CIA drones and (made clear) the surge in Afghanistan. The Christmas day attempt to strike at home was in the background of his thinking-he dodged a bullet that day.
An important element in enhancing our national security is the reduction of oil imports. Currently, we get one of every five barrels of oil from countries that are "dangerous or unstable," according to the State Department. It is essential that we invest in clean energy technologies to reduce this demand for foreign oil.
Sen. Graham noted that "we are too dependent on foreign oil. And the money we're sending overseas is going into the hands of people that hate our guts and are funding terrorism… The sooner you embrace pricing carbon and making the air cleaner, the better."
It is important to note that President Obama included more reference to Afghanistan in his State of the Union address than other foreign policy issues, including Iraq and even Iran. Of course, such addresses are not meant to be a comprehensive review of what the Administration's strategy or policies are and the President's December speech at West Point provided a better picture of what the Administration's priorities will be for Afghanistan.
However, what is telling in both addresses is not what he stated about Afghanistan, but what wasn't stated. The focus continues to be on training of security forces, rather than rebuilding of a country that is still shattered by 30 years of war and facing some of the world's worst poverty and social indicators. It is agreed by most that the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police is an important effort that needs the partnership of the U.S. so that our troops can come home. The Afghan state must rebuild its institutions so that it can provide for its own security against terrorism, crime, corruption and regional threats. However, the funds to support Afghan Security Forces will not be generated by the Afghan state unless its economy can improve beyond the poverty level. Alongside support for training of security forces, there must be an equal amount of attention and funding needed for economic and social development. Otherwise, the Afghan state will continue to depend on the U.S. for financial assistance long-term.
On the subject of foreign policy, the speech is very disappointing. Obviously, the president wanted the focus to be domestic, so the foreign policy and defense section is the dullest boilerplate. No new initiatives. No change in rhetoric. Indeed, practically no rhetoric at all. It is almost as if the president was turning the nation inward and stepping away from international involvement. There is no mention of Europe (except as a place where trains run fast), which Europeans will notice. No mention of Japan. And only one use of the word "allies," in the context of Afghanistan. The perception that the Obama administration is pulling away from our allies, which is becoming widespread, will be strengthened by this speech.
As to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the speech is about withdrawal, not commitment. As for Iran, there is no mention of the Iranian opposition, the illegitimate Iranian elections, and only the briefest of references to human rights in Iran. Perhaps the world will understand that Obama felt he had to focus on the domestic issues. But it will be hard to avoid the perception that Obama, having little to show for his foreign policy efforts in the first year, has decided to downplay foreign policy. This is worrying.
NewsHour Background: Dec. 11, 2009 | In Germany, 'National Guilt' Stirs Against Afghan War
NewsHour Background: Dec. 8, 2009 | War Weary British Seek An End in Afghanistan
NewsHour Background: Dec. 4, 2009 | Clinton: Many Pakistanis Have 'Reflex of Skepticism' over U.S. Efforts
How the U.S. is able to withdraw from Iraq, but support a government that provides for the rights and services of its people, will provide for a picture of what may or may not be possible as the Administration plans its exit from Afghanistan. Although the contexts for engagement in each country is different, the lessons learned from how to plan an exit strategy where large numbers of U.S. troops have been stationed will be important. There were five times more troops in Iraq than Afghanistan before the recent troop surge and how the military will manage the transfer of assets it has built on the ground and how it can remove other assets and equipment will be a test for what can be realistic in Afghanistan.
Even though most troops will withdraw from Iraq, given the assets that were invested in the country and the lack of a strong and stable central government in Iraq, it seems plausible that there will be continued U.S. military presence in Iraq for many years-- the question is what the size of that footprint will look like and what their role will be if there are corruption or bad governance issues that reach unacceptable levels. Will the U.S. simply look the other way or take action? In both Afghanistan and Iraq, the focus is assisting the governments, while the plight of the people in both countries is not the benchmark for success. We must change that paradigm if we are to help bring stability and security in Iraq and Afghanistan because it is the people who will either move the countries forward or view their government as an oppressive regime that should be changed.
NewsHour Background: March 19, 2009 | Iraq Faces Its Future as U.S. Plans Exit
The stance with respect to Iran's development of nuclear weapons has changed from that taken during the campaign and the first State of the Union. The President had a more positive tone early in his term, calling for diplomatic talks and engagement with Iran.
The way that the elections were handled in Iran may have affected the approach, since the Iranian government did not meet its obligations to conduct free and fair elections. This may have affected views whether the Iranian government will live up to other obligations. The mention of Iran being "isolated" and that they would face "growing consequences" seems to be a warning sign to Iran that there will be less of a soft approach and more use of sanctions and other harder approaches to showing discontent with Iran's continued effort to become a nuclear power.
NewsHour Background: June 16, 2009 | U.S. and South Korea Presidents Rebuke North Korean Provocations
Where is global development?
In an address targeted squarely at domestic political audiences, it may not be surprising that foreign policy and America's role in promoting economic growth in the developing world barely featured. It is nonetheless disappointing. America's economic health is intimately linked to robust markets abroad, including not only East Asia and Latin America but, increasingly, Africa and the Middle East. The transnational threats of terrorism, disease, and crime are also connected to poverty and the lack of opportunity in far corners of the globe. The recent horrors of the Haitian earthquake and the outpouring of goodwill is also a reminder of the moral imperative of humanitarian assistance. But the SOTU mentioned only in passing U.S. efforts at food security, continuing to fund HIV/AIDS programs, and rescue efforts in Haiti. There was no defense of the foreign aid budget, zero new initiatives to promote trade and investment, and nothing new at all on bringing American innovation to promote global prosperity.
The near total lack of global development in the President's first SOTU is especially disappointing since the Obama campaign and the administration have been promising to elevate these issues within US foreign policy for all the reasons cited above. But so far we have yet to see this become reality. Two reports on U.S. development strategy (one by the State Department and one by the White House staff) are due soon. Yet hopes for a vigorous new direction—such as strengthening development alongside defense and diplomacy—are fading fast. The glaring omission in the SOTU will likely accelerate the already reduced expectations.
NewsHour Background: Jan. 27, 2010 | Report: 'F' for Obama Administration's Biological Attack Readiness
The truth is, substantially increased investments in global health are in our country's diplomatic, security, and humanitarian interests. That's why the National Intelligence Council issued a report arguing that a broader global health effort could help accomplish multiple diplomatic priorities for our country and an Institute of Medicine panel called for making health a “pillar of U.S. foreign policy,” by doubling U.S. investments over the Administration's first term.
A broader approach to global health that builds on the response to AIDS can achieve dramatic humanitarian returns, but not if we hobble it with insufficient resources. A major part of the success of PEPFAR (the U.S. AIDS program) was that it was adequately funded.
The administration has placed emphasis on women's rights and human rights. Mentioning girl's education after the rebuilding effort in Haiti is significant as it shows that it is seen as an important issue. Again, what will determine whether the president's mention of girl's education in Afghanistan in his State of the Union address will be pursued is how much funding the administration will request for such programs and how such programs will be conducted on the ground. Otherwise, it will be a reference to a sad situation caused by conflict after the neglect of the U.S. and international community following the defeat of the Soviet Union, but will not lead to change on the ground.
President Obama's thoughts on national security are tough to critique -- but one must. He wraps our soldiers, our efforts, our concerns against the vagaries and horrors of terrorism in the flag as he must -- but the bottom line is that we are no closer to really unplugging the drivers of transnational Islamic terrorism under Obama than we were under the Bush administration.
The primary national security goal of the United States should be that we need to show the rest of the world that we can achieve the objectives that we declare for ourselves. Most leaders see us as unable to accomplish these goals -- and this translates as a perception of weakness.
Afghanistan is a relatively small nation with a GDP of $11.7 billion -- and yet, we will spend more than $100 billion in 2010 trying to establish some sort of equilibrium there. Something is seriously broken in our ability to deliver global stability at a reasonable price. Americans sense there is something wrong when investment at home is frozen and commitments abroad are increased without limit. Obama didn't acknowledge this but it is undermining his position and leadership.
This was not a foreign policy state of the union address; the president clearly made a calculated decision to focus on shoring up his political position at home and centered the speech around bread and butter issues aimed at pleasing the folks back home.
Fair enough; the near-depression the country experienced is the central political reality shaping the administration's suddenly troubled political environment, and spending the great majority of his time explaining the administration's economic strategy was the right thing to do.
When the president touched on foreign policy, the speech was as interesting for what it did not say as for what it mentioned. A year ago for example the administration was highlighting its commitment to get the Arab-Israeli peace process moving once again. Little was said tonight on this subject -- not surprising, because nothing has been accomplished and the administration does not seem to have a clear strategy for moving forward.
The president pointed to some extremely ambitious goals: the abolition of nuclear weapons, the completion of the Doha round of world trade talks, doubling American exports, passing a major energy bill that would enhance U.S. diplomatic efforts on the climate change issue. North Korea and Iran are to face (unspecified) consequences for their continued obduracy on the nuclear issue. The United States and Russia will negotiate a major arms reduction treaty. Bilateral trade talks with key partners will move towards final treaties and approval.
It would be very surprising if much of this has been accomplished by the time the President returns to Congress for the 2011 SOTU. It is far more likely that none of these goals will have been met.
We shall see. The world remains a dangerous place. The president's policies in Iraq and Afghanistan can only move forward if we make substantial military progress in both countries. Iran chose not to respond positively to the president's efforts to engage it in 2009; it is not clear whether the return to a policy of punishing it will achieve anything more.
It is still very early in the Obama presidency; by his 2011 State of the Union address we should begin to have clearer idea about how much success he is having with his ambitious and forward looking agenda.
These lines, this theme, repeated throughout the State of the Union, recalls President Obama's keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004, when as an Illinois state senator, he spoke of a country more united than divided, with people defined by their common citizenship, more than by their political views:
From his 2004 speech: "Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.
"Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America.
"There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.
"The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states: red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.
"We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America."
Tonight, after what he himself called a difficult year, the president reached back into his own arsenal of ideas to plead with senators and House members to work with him. It's fascinating that after one year in the White House, he called forth a theme that first helped vault him to national prominence. Will it have the same resonance in 2010 that it did six years ago?
Add me to the cynical: To defend deficit spending in the ARRA and then call for a spending freeze ten minutes later does not pass the coherence test.
Clean energy reform is something that has already united some Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives, blue states and red states. With President Obama's leadership and Congress's cooperation, we can adopt comprehensive clean energy and global warming legislation that would create jobs, increase energy security, cut pollution and increase economic competitiveness.
In sum, the speech reflects a timidity in approaching our nation's problems. There is too much tactical political posturing when instead the president needed to use the address to outline bold answers to today's brutally difficult challenges. It is as if the Massachusetts Senate loss has caused the administration to pull in its horns.
Obama eloquently tried to do tonight what JFK did in his speech to Congress after the Bay of Pigs failure in 1961 and what Bill Clinton did in 1995 after losing both Houses of Congress: reframe the way Americans see his presidency after suffering some setbacks. This speech will no doubt help, but he is the first to know that his fate will rest a lot more on the outcome of his efforts to bring American jobs and what happens in two American wars and the struggle against terrorism.