2011 Annotated State of the Union Address
Jan. 25, 2011
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Click on the red links to the left of the text to take a closer look at President Obama's 2011 Annotated State of the Union Address through expert analysis, NewsHour videos and more. The text of the remarks below is as prepared for delivery and released by the White House. Click here for the annotated Republican response by Rep. Paul Ryan and watch the president's full address.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:
Tonight I want to begin by congratulating the men and women of the 112th Congress, as well as your new Speaker, John Boehner. And as we mark this occasion, we are also mindful of the empty chair in this Chamber, and pray for the health of our colleague — and our friend — Gabby Giffords.
It's no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years. The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs. And that's a good thing. That's what a robust democracy demands. That's what helps set us apart as a nation.
But there's a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passions and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater — something more consequential than party or political preference.
We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.
That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation.
Now, by itself, this simple recognition won't usher in a new era of cooperation. What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.
I believe we can. I believe we must. That's what the people who sent us here expect of us. With their votes, they've determined that governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties. New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans. We will move forward together, or not at all — for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.
At stake right now is not who wins the next election — after all, we just had an election. At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else. It's whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded. It's whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but a light to the world.
We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.
But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone. We measure progress by the success of our people. By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer. By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise. By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children.
That's the project the American people want us to work on. Together.
We did that in December. Thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans' paychecks are a little bigger today. Every business can write off the full cost of the new investments they make this year. These steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will grow the economy and add to the more than one million private sector jobs created last year.
But we have more work to do. The steps we've taken over the last two years may have broken the back of this recession — but to win the future, we'll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.
Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown. You didn't always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors. If you worked hard, chances are you'd have a job for life, with a decent paycheck, good benefits, and the occasional promotion. Maybe you'd even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company.
That world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful. I've seen it in the shuttered windows of once booming factories, and the vacant storefronts of once busy Main Streets. I've heard it in the frustrations of Americans who've seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear — proud men and women who feel like the rules have been changed in the middle of the game.
They're right. The rules have changed. In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do business. Steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same work with 100. Today, just about any company can set up shop, hire workers, and sell their products wherever there's an internet connection.
Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They're investing in research and new technologies. Just recently, China became home to the world's largest private solar research facility, and the world's fastest computer.
So yes, the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real. But this shouldn't discourage us. It should challenge us. Remember — for all the hits we've taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. No workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We are home to the world's best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any other place on Earth.
What's more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea — the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny. That is why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here. It's why our students don't just memorize equations, but answer questions like "What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?"
The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can't just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us, "The future is not a gift. It is an achievement." Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.
Now it's our turn. We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit, and reform our government. That's how our people will prosper. That's how we'll win the future. And tonight, I'd like to talk about how we get there.
The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.
None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be, or where the new jobs will come from. Thirty years ago, we couldn't know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution. What we can do — what America does better than anyone — is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn't just change our lives. It's how we make a living.
Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it's not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout history our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That's what planted the seeds for the Internet. That's what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS.
Just think of all the good jobs — from manufacturing to retail — that have come from those breakthroughs.
Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik we had no idea how we'd beat them to the moon. The science wasn't there yet. NASA didn't even exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn't just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.
This is our generation's Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven't seen since the height of the Space Race. In a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We'll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology — an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.
Already, we are seeing the promise of renewable energy. Robert and Gary Allen are brothers who run a small Michigan roofing company. After September 11th, they volunteered their best roofers to help repair the Pentagon. But half of their factory went unused, and the recession hit them hard.
Today, with the help of a government loan, that empty space is being used to manufacture solar shingles that are being sold all across the country. In Robert's words, "We reinvented ourselves."
That's what Americans have done for over two hundred years: reinvented ourselves. And to spur on more success stories like the Allen Brothers, we've begun to reinvent our energy policy. We're not just handing out money. We're issuing a challenge. We're telling America's scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we'll fund the Apollo Projects of our time.
At the California Institute of Technology, they're developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they're using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities. With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.
We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I'm asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give 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.
Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they're selling. So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of America's electricity will come from clean energy sources. Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all — and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.
Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America's success. But if we want to win the future — if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas — then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.
Think about it. Over the next ten years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school degree. And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren't even finishing high school. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. America has fallen to 9th in the proportion of young people with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us — as citizens, and as parents — are willing to do what's necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.
That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It's family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair; that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.
Our schools share this responsibility. When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance. But too many schools don't meet this test. That's why instead of just pouring money into a system that's not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top. To all fifty states, we said, "If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we'll show you the money."
Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation. For less than one percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning. These standards were developed, not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country. And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that is more flexible and focused on what's best for our kids.
You see, we know what's possible for our children when reform isn't just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals; school boards and communities.
Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver. Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado; located on turf between two rival gangs. But last May, 97% of the seniors received their diploma. Most will be the first in their family to go to college. And after the first year of the school's transformation, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said "Thank you, Mrs. Waters, for showing? that we are smart and we can make it."
Let's also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child's success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as "nation builders." Here in America, it's time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. And over the next ten years, with so many Baby Boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.
In fact, to every young person listening tonight who's contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child — become a teacher. Your country needs you.
Of course, the education race doesn't end with a high school diploma. To compete, higher education must be within reach of every American. That's why we've ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students. And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit — worth $10,000 for four years of college.
Because people need to be able to train for new jobs and careers in today's fast-changing economy, we are also revitalizing America's community colleges. Last month, I saw the promise of these schools at Forsyth Tech in North Carolina. Many of the students there used to work in the surrounding factories that have since left town. One mother of two, a woman named Kathy Proctor, had worked in the furniture industry since she was 18 years old. And she told me she's earning her degree in biotechnology now, at 55 years old, not just because the furniture jobs are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their dreams too. As Kathy said, "I hope it tells them to never give up."
If we take these steps — if we raise expectations for every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they're born until the last job they take — we will reach the goal I set two years ago: by the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.
One last point about education. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.
Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. I know that debate will be difficult and take time. But tonight, let's agree to make that effort. And let's stop expelling talented, responsible young people who can staff our research labs, start new businesses, and further enrich this nation.
The third step in winning the future is rebuilding America. To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information — from high-speed rail to high-speed internet.
Our infrastructure used to be the best — but our lead has slipped. South Korean homes now have greater internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation's infrastructure, they gave us a "D."
We have to do better. America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, and constructed the interstate highway system. The jobs created by these projects didn't just come from laying down tracks or pavement. They came from businesses that opened near a town's new train station or the new off-ramp.
Over the last two years, we have begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry. Tonight, I'm proposing that we redouble these efforts.
We will put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. We will make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based on what's best for the economy, not politicians.
Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying — without the pat-down. As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.
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. This isn't just about a faster internet and fewer dropped calls. It's about connecting every part of America to the digital age. It's about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world. It's about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor.
All these investments — in innovation, education, and infrastructure — will make America a better place to do business and create jobs. But to help our companies compete, we also have to knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success.
Over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries. Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all. But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and it has to change.
So tonight, I'm asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years — without adding to our deficit.
To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014 — because the more we export, the more jobs we create at home. Already, our exports are up. Recently, we signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs in the United States. And last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs. This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor; Democrats and Republicans, and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible.
Before I took office, I made it clear that we would enforce our trade agreements, and that I would only sign deals that keep faith with American workers, and promote American jobs. That's what we did with Korea, and that's what I intend to do as we pursue agreements with Panama and Colombia, and continue our Asia Pacific and global trade talks.
To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I've ordered a review of government regulations. When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them. But I will not hesitate to create or enforce commonsense safeguards to protect the American people. That's what we've done in this country for more than a century. It's why our food is safe to eat, our water is safe to drink, and our air is safe to breathe. It's why we have speed limits and child labor laws. It's why last year, we put in place consumer protections against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies, and new rules to prevent another financial crisis. And it's why we passed reform that finally prevents the health insurance industry from exploiting patients.
Now, I've heard rumors that a few of you have some concerns about the new health care law. So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved. If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you. We can start right now by correcting a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses.
What I'm not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a pre-existing condition. I'm not willing to tell James Howard, a brain cancer patient from Texas, that his treatment might not be covered. I'm not willing to tell Jim Houser, a small business owner from Oregon, that he has to go back to paying $5,000 more to cover his employees. As we speak, this law is making prescription drugs cheaper for seniors and giving uninsured students a chance to stay on their parents' coverage. So instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let's fix what needs fixing and move forward.
Now, the final step — a critical step — in winning the future is to make sure we aren't buried under a mountain of debt.
We are living with a legacy of deficit-spending that began almost a decade ago. And in the wake of the financial crisis, some of that was necessary to keep credit flowing, save jobs, and put money in people's pockets.
But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.
So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. This would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president.
This freeze will require painful cuts. Already, we have frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years. I've proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs. The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.
I recognize that some in this Chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I'm willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without. But let's make sure that we're not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. And let's make sure what we're cutting is really excess weight. Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you'll feel the impact.
Now, most of the cuts and savings I've proposed only address annual domestic spending, which represents a little more than 12% of our budget. To make further progress, we have to stop pretending that cutting this kind of spending alone will be enough. It won't.
The bipartisan Fiscal Commission I created last year made this crystal clear. I don't agree with all their proposals, but they made important progress. And their conclusion is that the only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it — in domestic spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes.
This means further reducing health care costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which are the single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit. Health insurance reform will slow these rising costs, which is part of why nonpartisan economists have said that repealing the health care law would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to our deficit. Still, I'm willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.
To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. And we must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans' guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.
And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply cannot afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. Before we take money away from our schools, or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break.
It's not a matter of punishing their success. It's about promoting America's success.
In fact, the best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to simplify the individual tax code. This will be a tough job, but members of both parties have expressed interest in doing this, and I am prepared to join them.
So now is the time to act. Now is the time for both sides and both houses of Congress — Democrats and Republicans — to forge a principled compromise that gets the job done. If we make the hard choices now to rein in our deficits, we can make the investments we need to win the future.
Let me take this one step further. We shouldn't just give our people a government that's more affordable. We should give them a government that's more competent and efficient. We cannot win the future with a government of the past.
We live and do business in the information age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black and white TV. There are twelve different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different entities that deal with housing policy. Then there's my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they're in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked.
Now, we have made great strides over the last two years in using technology and getting rid of waste. Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse. We're selling acres of federal office space that hasn't been used in years, and we will cut through red tape to get rid of more. But we need to think bigger. In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America. I will submit that proposal to Congress for a vote — and we will push to get it passed.
In the coming year, we will also work to rebuild people's faith in the institution of government. Because you deserve to know exactly how and where your tax dollars are being spent, you will be able to go to a website and get that information for the very first time in history. Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done: put that information online. And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren't larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this: if a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.
A 21st century government that's open and competent. A government that lives within its means. An economy that's driven by new skills and ideas. Our success in this new and changing world will require reform, responsibility, and innovation. It will also require us to approach that world with a new level of engagement in our foreign affairs.
Just as jobs and businesses can now race across borders, so can new threats and new challenges. No single wall separates East and West; no one rival superpower is aligned against us.
And so we must defeat determined enemies wherever they are, and build coalitions that cut across lines of region and race and religion. America's moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom, justice, and dignity. And because we have begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America's standing has been restored.
Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high; where American combat patrols have ended; violence has come down; and a new government has been formed. This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq. America's commitment has been kept; the Iraq War is coming to an end.
Of course, as we speak, al Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us. Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we are disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies. And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family.
We have also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad. In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan Security Forces. Our purpose is clear — by preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe-haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.
Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.
In Pakistan, al Qaeda's leadership is under more pressure than at any point since 2001. Their leaders and operatives are being removed from the battlefield. Their safe-havens are shrinking. And we have sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe: we will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you.
American leadership can also be seen in the effort to secure the worst weapons of war. Because Republicans and Democrats approved the New START Treaty, far fewer nuclear weapons and launchers will be deployed. Because we rallied the world, nuclear materials are being locked down on every continent so they never fall into the hands of terrorists.
Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher and tighter sanctions than ever before. And on the Korean peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons.
This is just a part of how we are shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity. With our European allies, we revitalized NATO, and increased our cooperation on everything from counter-terrorism to missile defense. We have reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, and built new partnerships with nations like India. This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances for progress in the Americas. Around the globe, we are standing with those who take responsibility — helping farmers grow more food; supporting doctors who care for the sick; and combating the corruption that can rot a society and rob people of opportunity.
Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power — it must be the purpose behind it. In South Sudan — with our assistance — the people were finally able to vote for independence after years of war. Thousands lined up before dawn. People danced in the streets. One man who lost four of his brothers at war summed up the scene around him: "This was a battlefield for most of my life. Now we want to be free."
We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.
We must never forget that the things we've struggled for, and fought for, live in the hearts of people everywhere. And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country.
Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families. Let us serve them as well as they have served us — by giving them the equipment they need; by providing them with the care and benefits they have earned; and by enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation.
Our troops come from every corner of this country — they are black, white, Latino, Asian and Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. And, yes, we know that some of them are gay. Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love. And with that change, I call on all of our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation.
We should have no illusions about the work ahead of us. Reforming our schools; changing the way we use energy; reducing our deficit — none of this is easy. All of it will take time. And it will be harder because we will argue about everything. The cost. The details. The letter of every law.
Of course, some countries don't have this problem. If the central government wants a railroad, they get a railroad — no matter how many homes are bulldozed. If they don't want a bad story in the newspaper, it doesn't get written.
And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn't a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth.
We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution. We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try. We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything's possible. No matter who you are. No matter where you come from.
That dream is why I can stand here before you tonight. That dream is why a working class kid from Scranton can stand behind me. That dream is why someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father's Cincinnati bar can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth.
That dream — that American Dream — is what drove the Allen Brothers to reinvent their roofing company for a new era. It's what drove those students at Forsyth Tech to learn a new skill and work towards the future. And that dream is the story of a small business owner named Brandon Fisher.
Brandon started a company in Berlin, Pennsylvania that specializes in a new kind of drilling technology. One day last summer, he saw the news that halfway across the world, 33 men were trapped in a Chilean mine, and no one knew how to save them.
But Brandon thought his company could help. And so he designed a rescue that would come to be known as Plan B. His employees worked around the clock to manufacture the necessary drilling equipment. And Brandon left for Chile.
Along with others, he began drilling a 2,000 foot hole into the ground, working three or four days at a time with no sleep. Thirty-seven days later, Plan B succeeded, and the miners were rescued. But because he didn't want all of the attention, Brandon wasn't there when the miners emerged. He had already gone home, back to work on his next project.
Later, one of his employees said of the rescue, "We proved that Center Rock is a little company, but we do big things."
We do big things.
From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That's how we win the future.
We are a nation that says, "I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company. I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree. I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try. I'm not sure how we'll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we'll get there. I know we will."
We do big things.
The idea of America endures. Our destiny remains our choice. And tonight, more than two centuries later, it is because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong.
Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.
Due to technical problems, some analysts' comments were briefly mislabeled. This version has been corrected.
Phyllis Bennis is the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Mary Agnes Carey
Mary Agnes Carey is a senior correspondent at Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit news organization committed to in-depth coverage of health care policy and politics. Follow Carey on Twitter @maryagnescarey
David Chalian is the political editor for the PBS NewsHour.
Beverly Gage is a professor of American history at Yale University.
Michael Gerson is a columnist for the Washington Post and former aide to President George W. Bush.
Kevin A. Hassett is the director of economic policy studies and a senior fellow at American Enterprise Institute.
Gwen Ifill is a senior correspondent for the PBS NewsHour.
Robert Laszewski is president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates Inc. and is a former COO of a health and group benefits insurer.
Vadim Lavrusik is the community manager & social strategist at Mashable.com. He's also an adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, teaching "Social Media Skills for Journalists." Follow Lavrusik on Twitter @Lavrusik
Maya MacGuineas is president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget at the New America Foundation.
James W. Pennebaker
James W. Pennebaker is the Regents Centennial Professor and Chair of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.
Danielle Pletka is vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.
Paul Rieckhoff is the executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Trudy Rubin writes a foreign affairs column for The Philadelphia Inquirer and is a member of The Inquirer's editorial board.
Tammy Schultz is the director of National Security & Joint Warfare at the Marine Corps War College.
Daniel Serwer is a professorial lecturer, visiting scholar and senior fellow in the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
Mark Shields is a syndicated columnist and a regular commentator for the PBS NewsHour.
Richard Norton Smith
Richard Norton Smith is a presidential historian and former head of six presidential libraries.
NewsHour business and economics correspondent
Neera Tanden is the chief operating officer of the Center for American Progress and oversees the health care program. Before that, she was the Director of Domestic Policy for the Obama Biden campaign, and also served on the Domestic Policy Council in the Clinton White House.
Mark Thoma is a macroeconomist and time-series econometrician at the University of Oregon. Follow Thoma on Twitter @MarkThoma
Judy Woodruff is a senior correspondent for the PBS NewsHour.
This sitting together thing really does change the optics - for now, at least. Let's see what happens when he gets to immigration and tax cuts.
On the NewsHour tonight, Robert Gibbs telegraphed some punches when he said that, essentially, sitting together is one test; working together is another.
White House officials said today that the reason the President will make no mention of gun control tonight, in the aftermath of the deadly Tucson shootings, despite his belief in the concept, is that he wanted to keep a principal focus on the economy, on "winning the future." Aides say the speech was designed to speak about where the country is going, and the health of the economy in the long term.
To bring up the controversial issue of gun control, they said, would risk diluting that focus. There are also references to international policy, but the central theme has to do with preparing for the rest of the 21st century that "keeps opportunity alive and vibrant.
President Obama's State of the Union address is far closer to a re-election campaign launch than it is to a listing of policy prescriptions or a tough love conversation with the American people about the inevitable and real hard choices that are before us.
In the days leading up to the speech, President Obama's advisers said he would be delivering a thematic speech, not a programmatic one and it is certainly that.
There is a touch of Oprah in the speech. President Obama is challenging Americans to build an America that is the best version of itself.
After two years of bruising partisan battle, culminating in a devastating midterm election for the president and his party, Mr. Obama is clearly attempting to regain the piece of his 2008 brand that was all about transcending partisan politics. It was an appeal that independent voters responded to during his race for the White House and those very same voters have been coming back to his fold in recent polls. This speech is aimed squarely at trying to keep them there.
In his prepared remarks, President Obama was expected to refer to both ?Democrats and Republicans? and urge them to work ?together? no fewer than a total of 13 times. (That's nearly double to the joint ?Democrats and Republicans? appeal and the push to do things ?together? compared to last year, but who's counting?)
Nowhere in this speech is there talk of abortion, climate change, or gun control. Those partisan trip wires have been replaced by innovation, education, infrastructure, all of which are potential areas of real bipartisanship.
Obama was supposed to be the ?new FDR.? (Remember that Time magazine cover in 2008, complete with Obama holding a long Rooseveltian cigarette?) And certain aspects of his speech echo FDR's New Deal agenda, such as the call for public works and infrastructure development. But FDR grew more radical on economic issues during his first term, culminating in the passage of Social Security and the Wagner labor relations act in 1935. With this speech, Obama is deliberately moving in the opposite direction. Cases in point: his call to lower the corporate tax rate and to freeze federal spending (though, one should note, FDR did gesture toward balancing the budget). Still, the two men do share at least one overarching characteristic: groping toward the middle. In Roosevelt's case, that meant finding a path that would save the U.S. from fascism on one side and communism on the other. By comparison, Obama's job should be simple. But FDR had one advantage that Obama may never see again: a unified and supportive Democratic Congress.
The veterans' community badly needs small business support. For veterans starting them?and working in them. This past year, the jobless rate for Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans hit a staggering 11.5 percent?up from 6.1 percent in 2007. Over 210,000 combat veterans are struggling to find gainful employment after their service.
If we're serious about repairing the economy, and we must be, the military budget cannot be immune from cuts. It's by far the largest part of our economy. We spend 43 percent of the military spending of the entire world — the next highest, China, is responsible for just over 6 percent of global arms spending.
Well, yes, but assuming you are going to spend a good deal of your time later in your speech pointing out that deficits are unsustainable, it is a bit ironic to just gloss over the fact that these tax cuts added to the deficit tremendously.
I thought it was a sober economic speech. Effective in a certain way. Covered a lot of topics. Everything from high speed rail to better cell phone coverage, in the great tradition of the State of the Union address. It reminded me very much of a Clinton speech from the 1990s. And those were very effective speeches. There was one thing that was lacking though. Unlike Clinton there was no moment where he said the era of big government is over. It was pretty unapologetic in his activism. And that sets up oddly, in a very bipartisan speech, a large contrast with the Republicans. Ideological contrast. They think we're in a fiscal crisis that requires a revisiting of the role of government itself. And that's really not what Obama talked about in this speech.
I think there was a switch. From a stimulus-oriented, public job creation, which would've been a year ago, to a very business-oriented speech. I'm not sure that's Reagan. I think it's more like Clinton. There was a lot of activism there. Research and development. We're going to develop new clean energy. We're going to do all these things. It's essentially government's catalytic role in the private sector, which is different from the message the president had adopted before.
I was a little bit disappointed that there wasn't more on the deficit. I don't think there was any policy breakthrough here. He talked about a five year freeze, but he talked in last year's State of the Union about a three-year freeze. He talked about tax increases that he's been talking about since the primaries. There were really no specifics on Social Security or Medicare. Maybe that will come in the budget, maybe there'll be more when it comes. But it was not a real emphasis of the speech.
Most Americans don't understand that China puts a tremendous amount of government money into research, including promoting new research universities. Nor do they know that it was the defense department research arm that first produced the Internet.
I thought the speech had two central themes to it one of which was not surprising, that of education, and the Democratic president and particularly this Democratic president. But the second was surprising, and that was America is open for business. That's who we are.
Since last year's election, the president has been more and more willing to embrace the notion that we are an exceptional nation, for these reasons and so many more. The leap that he has been less willing to make is that because we are an exceptional nation, we have exceptional responsibilities — to our own people, but also to others who yearn to enjoy the same pursuit of freedom that we have enjoyed since our Revolution.
This is a powerful concept. Americans love competition. Racing against China and others is a motivating way to set the stage and rally the nation.
Most of the programs the President mentioned to create jobs and improve the prospects for workers in the future will take quite some time to have an effect. Educational improvements. for example, will not happen immediately. We've been trying to do this for decades already with little to show for it, so we shouldn't expect things to improve overnight. And if reform does eventually happen, it will be many years after that before better educated students begin to enter the workforce.
Another initiative from the President, investment in infrastructure, is a little better in terms of how long it takes to create jobs. There will be additional jobs as the infrastructure is under construction, and more jobs in the long run when it enhances our productivity. But we must first get these programs through Congress and that will take time - if it can be done at all given the opposition from the GOP. And if and when a program does eventually get through Congress, it will take even more time before the first shovel hits the dirt. I like the ideas I heard from the president, but what about our more immediate job problem? How do we help those who need a job right now? Solving the more immediate job problem needs to be first and foremost on our national agenda, but this was not addressed in the speech.
The two lines that the White House may want, more than any others, for Americans to take away from tonight's State of the Union: "That's how we'll win the future." And: "This is our generation's Sputnik moment."
In addressing American innovation, President Obama called America a nation of Google and Facebook. The mention is significant not only because Obama has been known for leveraging social media, but also the timing of the mention. Google announced its many job openings today and the Associated Press reported that the company could hire more than 6,000 people this year. And it's no coincidence that President Obama mentioned the word jobs 25 times in his address.
I was disappointed. To get up there and say it's a Sputnik moment, that it's an economic cold war instead? No, this was a speech about changing the subject. I'm not saying it wasn't a good speech, it was a great speech with a lot of good ideas. If we were a rational universe with cerebral people like Obama in all the political offices, we could do all these things. But you know what, that's not the case. The thing I thought was politically smart was, if you noticed, he didn't ignore entitlement programs, but he mentioned them just enough to goad the Republicans into getting more specific. He's not drawing lines in the sand or saying don't touch Social Security. It's a tougher -- and I would say shrewder -- approach, by saying we have to deal with these things and then baiting Republicans, the Paul Ryan Republicans, to specifically address them. It's a game of chess, with both sides circling one another. And then you've got Michele Bachmann over there making Paul Ryan look moderate.
Calling on America to outsmart its competitors in the 21st century, the president reminded us of Sputnik, the first earth-orbiting satellite, launched by the Soviet Union in 1957. That achievement prodded President John F. Kennedy to push the U.S. to its successful race to the moon. I estimate well under one quarter of Americans remember that moment, but surely most of us have at least studied it in school. It was one more way the president tried to paint a picture of a United States that can rise to the occasion and can overcome a seeming disadvantage when it has to. At a moment when millions can't find a job, when China seems headed to become the world's economic power, Mr. Obama clearly saw one challenge was to inspire his countrymen and women to believe things will get better, that their nation can prevail.
So it turns out that Obama isn't FDR. He's Dwight Eisenhower, worried about Sputnik. Obama's call for investment in science and higher education is vital, given the desperate state of Sputnik-era educational jewels like the University of California system. But it's worth remembering, when we make these historical analogies, what much of that earlier round of Cold War investment was really about: military supremacy over the Soviet Union. It remains to be seen if Obama can muster the political capital for that scale of investment absent a pressing Cold-War-style military threat.
The buzz on social media gravitated toward the subject of economy and technology, which isn't a surprise. In a poll prior to the address on the U.S. Politics Facebook page, when asked "What is the most important theme for President Barack Obama to address during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday?" some 78 percent of the respondents said the ?economy.?
Is this our Sputnik moment? When Sputnik went up, the Soviet Union was the enemy which made it easier to mobilize Americans to study more math and science. But China is an economic competitor, not (yet) an enemy, so will we recognize the need to emulate the Chinese education ethic? Will Americans understand that jobs depend on putting as high a value on education as they do on sports?
President Obama's reference to the Soviets beating America to space with the Sputnik became a trending topic on Twitter. ?This is our generation's Sputnik moment? was referenced in thousands of tweets.
The "Sputnik moment" line, which was much touted in advance, passed with nary a clap. Plus, he's said it before. Attributed to Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
Obama's plea for America's next Sputnik moment. Looks like someone has been reading a lot of Thomas Friedman: http://nyti.ms/Rf9Xx and http://nyti.ms/8T91il
Economics Correspondent Paul Solman has posted at some length on the SOTU speechifying. Here's an excerpt concerning President Obama's remarks:
As for the content of the mostly uninterrupted one hour and nine minutes of actual talk, the President focused on a problem that has been growing for decades: how the world has changed. China, he said, now boasts the world's fastest computer, the world's largest solar research center. By contrast, the U.S. is ninth in college graduation rates.
Yet all is not lost.
"Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But..." - and this is the crucial "but" of a Democratic President - "because it's not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout history our GOVERNMENT [emphasis added] has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That's what planted the seeds for the Internet. That's what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS."
I.e.: much-maligned government has a role to play in the economy, my fellow Americans, and let's not forget it. The most memorable line from this part of the President's argument: "This is our generation's Sputnik moment." Given that Russia's Sputnik was launched more than half a century ago, and that the economic payoff from the space race is still hard to demonstrate, it was a line perhaps better left unuttered.
Nice to start off with the reminder that we have to stop spending (oftentimes through the tax code) in order to better redirect resources and close the fiscal gap.
The dig about the oil companies "doing just fine on their own" landed with a thud.
The president placed education high on the list of priorities, at No. 2. Five of his 23 guests were students, a sixth a community college teacher (Jill Biden).
The president talked in competitive terms, no surprise given his basketball obsession and his secretary of education's prowess as an athlete. But one has to wonder how America is going to "win the race to educate our kids" or "out-educate" other countries without some serious examination of current policies.
I like this a lot. I know many folks in the military community are annoyed when they see Michael Vick celebrated instead of folks like Medal of Honor Recipient SSG Sal Giunta.
Hard to say you're against innovation and competition and kids winning science fairs. But turning the TV off? Come on, now.
While the president mentioned No Child Left Behind, nothing he said suggested to me that he's ready to put the power of his office behind rewriting that flawed law (which expired a long time ago but remains law until the Congress rewrites it).
Standing ovations for at least two of his references to teachers. These are safe and noncontroversial. Let's hope this means something. His passion seems genuine, reassuring and familiar.
This is a powerful call to service. It is really good to see the President continuing to encourage many forms of national service.
POTUS should issue a call for mental health providers like he did for teachers. It would help us lower the skyrocketing military suicide rate.
I found the president's call to "become a teacher" inspiring and hope it curtails some of the nasty teacher bashing going on now.
At the end of the day, this speech is about the economy, not education, and that's as it should be.
The fans of community colleges have to be happy with all the attention. Happy, too, that the president did not bring up the fact that these institutions have a 25 percent graduation rate after SIX years!
The pledge to be No. 1 in the world in college completion by the end of the decade is a tall order. He said we are now No. 9, although I have seen lower rankings. No specifics, but that's to be expected, I guess.
Another thing Americans don't realize is how much our scientific establishment depends on foreign students who make up a large part of the body of graduate students in math and science who do doctorates at U.S. universities. We need to convince them to stay, not drive them away.
McCain is sitting next to Kerry. Applauds immigration line. (Boehner does too.) But what do two defeated party nominees think at a moment like this?
It is shocking to visit distant provinces of China and see new roads and brand new, well-functioning airports, with multi-lingual signage, and to see internet towers in the most remote parts of the country. China is investing a fortune in fast trains, and linking its immense and dispersed population together. Meantime, our bridges crumble, many of our airports are embarrassingly disfunctional, our fast rail is a joke. This country can not compete with infrastructure that is so lagging, with few Americans recognizing that this undercuts our competitiveness and our ability to attract investment and jobs to the United States.
A particularly invidious comparison. Where did these nations begin? For many, advance is impossible without basic investment in roads. To pinch the president's own nostalgic line, this is a missile gap argument — political manipulation of perceived foreign success to make arguments for your own domestic spending.
If I were a member of Congress, I would offer an amendment to the high-speed rail bill that spent the same amount of money on pixie dust. Pixie dust has a better chance of delivering economic growth. the green jobs fantasy is worse. This is Epcot center economics at its worse.
Obama Administration Threatens to Take Back Wis. Rail Money (New York Times)
This type of technology is working in the combat zone on a daily basis. And has and will save many lives.
White House officials say lowering the tax rate on corporations, which the president said tonight is one of the highest in the world, can be done without adding to the deficit. That is, if loopholes are closed and so-called "tax expenditures" that give breaks to certain sectors of the economy, are done away with. They acknowledge this will stir up fierce opposition from lobbyists representing every interest that now receives a tax break.
Leveling the playing field on the corporate tax code garners a standing O. Who knew?
This is a great idea. It will help our competitiveness. However, it would be far better to reform the corporate tax code as a part of a comprehensive reform of the full income tax.
The idea is that removing unnecessary regulation will improve our ability to innovate, and this will help the economy create new, good jobs. However, it wasn't lack of innovation or lack of competitiveness that got us into this mess; it was an out of control financial sector.
The President talked about eliminating unnecessary regulation, but far too little was said about the need to implement new regulations where they are needed. In addition, by focusing so much on helping business, the president risks sending the message that what is good for business is necessarily good for the nation.
Businesses need the right environment to thrive, but we must not lose sight of the fact that it's the skills of the people that work at businesses that matters most. Our ultimate goal is the best possible life for as many people as possible, and that requires a broader focus than businesses alone.
President Obama pledged to work with Republicans on making some changes to the health law, such as repealing a provision the president said placed "an unnecessary book keeping burden" on small businesses. But Obama made it clear that efforts to repeal the law or make significant changes to it would be a non-starter. He praised the law's provisions that have reduced prescription drug costs for some seniors and allow adult children up to age 26 to remain on a parent's health insurance plan. Obama urged the GOP to "fix what needs fixing" in the health law "and move forward."
But that's unlikely to happen. Republicans want to repeal the law or dismantle it piece by piece. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called the law "an open-ended health care entitlement" that he said would increase health care costs and hurt job creation.
The president here is setting the bar on any changes to the law he'll consider: they have to make the care "better or more affordable." Neither full repeal nor other particular initiatives, like eliminating the individual responsibility requirement that ensures individuals have coverage nor gutting spending on reform would meet that test.
When the president spoke about "correcting a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses," it is the Republicans who've held up the 1099 issue. They've done that in order to keep it alive with the base, and the president is trying to call them on it.
The president mentioned the words "health care" only four times in his speech.
On the new health care law he said, "If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you."
On the deficit he said, ?This means further reducing health care costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which are the single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit? I'm willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.?
He said exactly the right things in these few brief words but the proof for how willing the president is to work with Republicans ? or the Republicans are willing to work with the president and Democrats ? will be in the deeds.
The country is divided over this new health care law. I don't think it has to be. There is plenty of room for Democrats to embrace some key Republican ideas and still accomplish their objectives.
Democrats could embrace the Republican notion of more individual responsibility without giving up on their goal of making affordable health care available to everyone.
The most controversial elements of the bill such as the individual mandate and the ?Cadillac? tax on expensive benefits could be jettisoned if Democrats would embrace concepts of more individual choice and responsibility such as placing limits on how rich a plan would be eligible for tax preferences and if consumers had more health benefit choices.
If Republicans and Democrats really are willing to give and take, they could make most Americans happy with health care reform.
We need to find ways ? and a lot of them ? to better control health care costs! This is the single most important thing we can do to get ahead of our long-term fiscal problems.
Discussions of repeal have now focused more attention on what is in the law and allows the president to put a fresh spotlight on what the law does for people and it's actual benefits, which are individually popular. That is why he's going over each of these elements.
The president hopes to set up the general contrast that while he's focused on the economy and jobs, the Republicans are focused on yesterday's debates on health care. And what even Democrats learned is that people would rather focus on the economy than health care.
We need to get our deficit under control, but not before the economy is ready for it. If we move too soon to balance the budget, we could slow the recovery or even cause a return to recessionary conditions.
We can learn something about this from the UK. The UK has embraced austerity and taken steps to balance the budget. The idea was that this would create confidence and spur recovery. However, the dismal GDP growth figures released today for the UK tell us we should be very cautious about cutting spending or raising taxes before the economy is on firmer footing that it's on presently.
Fortunately for us, Congress moves slowly. That works in our favor here. But with the president signaling such an openness to work with the GOP on this issue, a more immediate and harmful move toward deficit reduction is not out of the question. I would have liked to have heard the president make clear that while deficit reduction must be addressed, we need to be careful not to hit our still fragile economy with a shock it is not ready to withstand.
The details weren't given, but the President likely has an across the board freeze in mind - i.e. the discretionary spending freeze means that no program can grow beyond current levels.
However, a spending freeze while population is growing amounts to a cut in per capita spending. While this sounds courageous, it's actually the easy way out since it avoids tough choices on which programs to cut and which programs to preserve. It is also not optimal for the economy because per capita cuts in some programs will be much more painful than in others.
A better way to do this, and hopefully what will actually happen, is to cut back (or eliminate) the programs that provide the least value, and maintain or perhaps even expand those that provide critical services to citizens. Thus, if the freeze is across the board, it could be quite disruptive to some programs and to the economy. If it is done wisely, the pain from the cuts could be much less.
This makes sense, but as the president says, it is a very small piece of the budget. The emphasis needs to be on all parts of the budget.
Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, from President Obama's own party, said just this morning that we have to ?look at the war in Afghanistan? when he was asked where he would cut the budget. He's right.
Rep. Barney Frank from Massachusetts has called for a very moderate 25% cut in the defense budget. If we're serious about jobs for — is it 15 million unemployed? — and health care for — still tens of millions without insurance — that 25% cut is going to have to be just the first step.
President Obama ran in 2008 as a moderate sensible man with many moderate and sensible proposals. For example, he has been calling for a corporate tax reform that broadens the base and lowers the rates for as long as I can remember. As President, he lurched sharply to the left, perhaps because he was driven there by his own party, but perhaps because the temptations of power induced him to reveal his true preferences.
The interesting thing is that President Obama could appear to veer to the right in response to the collapse of the Democratic power structure simply by rehashing his old campaign speeches. His willingness to put forward genuine proposals is the true acid test of whether he intends to govern as the moderate he portrayed on the campaign trail, or whether he simply will maintain an impotent pretense of moderation.
This speech was remarkable free of hard substance, suggesting that Obama is a reluctant centrist who only talks a good game. The five year spending freeze, the only significant precise substance, is painfully inadequate given that spending is currently about $800 billion higher than it was in 2008. If he succeeds, he will have locked in the biggest short term expansion of government in modern times.
It will be very interesting to see if POTUS proposes specific spending cuts at Veterans Affairs. If he does, there will surely be a fight.
President Obama is talking about a five-year freeze in domestic spending — but only a few tens of billions in defense spending?? If we're spending almost a TRILLION dollars just this year, between the Pentagon budget and the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, how do we think we'll ever be able to afford jobs and health care and education? We need massive cuts in the military budget and ending the wars will be a crucial first step.
This contrast sets up the key debate in Congress for the year: the president has one vision of fostering economic growth through investments in innovation, education, alternative energy, and the Republicans have a different and opposing vision of slashing spending, even where, he would argue, it hurts economic growth. He's making the case their cuts hurt growth, where they are trying to make the case they will help. It's the key contrast we will see over the next several months.
This is true. It is important to cut spending?and reform taxes?with an eye on economic growth.
What a shame he didn't use this opportunity to say, let's use the Fiscal Commission's plan as a starting point for a national discussion on how to fix the budget.
The punt on Social Security has been going on for too long. We have known it needs changes, and we have known the options for decades now. There is really no excuse not to get specific on this point about what to do to fix the problem. More focus on what not to do than what to do is not the right approach.
I was pleased to hear the president say that "we simply cannot afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans." But there needed to be more emphasis on the fact that eliminating tax cuts for the wealthy and spending cuts will not solve our budget problem by themselves. Taxes are going to go up, and the president could have started paving the way for this to happen.
Or a permanent extension of any of the tax cuts prior to putting in place a comprehensive plan to fix the budget!
I thought it [the tone] was quite serious. But I thought the Chamber was quite serious tonight.
I mean what was gone was an unwelcome puppetry from the past where our side jumps up and sits on our hands and the other side jumps up. I think that Mark Udall's bringing people together, it made [lawmakers] a little less willing to be part of the herd, jumping up on my side to cheer each time.
If I'm sitting with somebody from the other party.
I noticed John Kerry sitting with John McCain, and Patty Murray, the chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee in Washington sitting with John Cornyn, the Republican chairman of the Campaign Committee from Texas, so there is a little less willingness to do it and there is a little bit less of , what we expect as a pep rally aspect of it, of this speech.
Now it seems that Obama is Herbert Hoover, who came to office famous for his ability to reorganize and streamline government agencies. Actually, scratch that: Let's hope Obama is not Herbert Hoover.
This is true sometimes. Many vets have Tweeted me tonight to tell me that the system does not work very well. And that is only true for the 50 percent or so Iraq and Afghanistan vets enrolled in the VA. Hundreds of thousands have not even signed up yet?and there is no mandatory enrollment in VA.
This is an exciting idea. I hope they take it seriously as part of an overall reform of the budget.
Not everyone in his own party is signing on board with his earmark ban mission. Earlier today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said this: ?I think this is an issue that any president would like to have, that takes power away from the legislative branch of government and I don't think that's helpful. I think it's a lot of pretty talk and it's only giving the president more power. He's got enough power already.?
This is pretty standard stuff: interdependence, globalization, no more superpower confrontation.
Here we are on page 9, 75 percent of the way through this speech, and we reach foreign policy.
We must remember we still have troops in Iraq. The war is not over. Thankfully, the president has stopped saying ?combat operations? have ended. They have not.
Unfortunately, the president did not mention what we hoped to hear: vet unemployment and suicides: http://tinyurl.com/4j326fv. Both are huge problems facing vets. Unemployment over 11 percent, suicide rates at an all-time high and climbing rapidly.
Amazing how Iraq has passed from our radar screen, and merits only a paragraph that stresses the end of the war. We are leaving a grim country still bitterly divided by sect in which many who supported the U.S. invasion now wish Saddam had never been overthrown, so desperate are they for assurances of security.
But the responsibility for this tragedy does not lie with this president, and Americans are understandably reluctant to revisit the tragic Iraq errors of the Bush decade.
He's right: Things have gone relatively well in Iraq, and there are prospects for a decent outcome.
But there are fifty thousand U.S. troops still occupying Iraq. The "new government" has been formed, but it is widely discredited, riddled with corruption, and incompetent and unable to provide even the basics of electricity, security, jobs.
The war will not be over until all the U.S. troops come home, all the U.S.-paid contractors (those paid by the State Department as well as the Pentagon) are no longer on our payroll, and Iraq's people have a government they choose...
Our job in Iraq was not to bring the troops home; it was to secure victory and security for ourselves, and for the Iraqi people so that their nation could never again pose a threat to us and to our allies. This is a terrible mistake that the president keeps repeating. Americans are proud of victory, not escape. We are leaving because we have won. Glossing over that accomplishment serves no one and underscores one of the president's ideological failings: he cannot credit our troops or the previous administration with winning strategies or appear to understand the cause for which they fought.
Are we really hearing that the war in Afghanistan — where our own officials admit our top ally is corrupt; where more Afghan civilians and more U.S. troops died last year than ever before; where our other friendly neighbor, Pakistan, continues to shelter guerrilla forces attacking the U.S. across the border — is somehow going well? All our political and military leaders admit this war cannot be won militarily; why do we continue to fight a war as if it could be? We have more than 100,000 US troops occupying Afghanistan, plus another 100,000 or so US-paid mercenaries. They're not winning. This is a war we cannot win and we cannot afford.
Not surprising, but no mention here of the potential increase of 70,000 troops in Afghanistan mentioned in The Hill today by Senator Levin. http://tinyurl.com/6ykqjua
The time will come soon enough when the president has to confront whether it is realistic or possible to transfer security to Afghan forces that will not be capable of handling it for years to come, if ever. No one yet wants to raise this unpalatable reality. So it is easier to talk of "beginning to bring troops home" in July, and leave the painful truths for later.
The problem for President Obama on Afghanistan is that he has several audiences to whom he is speaking. To simplify, domestically, he has the American people writ large who are mixed about the war, and his political base on the left who largely want out. Internationally, he has a fraying coalition of countries in Afghanistan who are looking to the United States for leadership, the Afghanistan people writ large who don't want the country handed over to the Taliban, and those the United States and its partners are trying to defeat (the Taliban and al-Qaida forces) who obviously want us gone. Unfortunately, his message to his domestic base (that we'll start pulling out by July 2011) is undercutting the message of staying until the mission is done that our international/Afghan partners and enemies need to hear.
I would have preferred, as would many counterinsurgency practitioners and experts, that the president dropped July from his Afghanistan vernacular altogether and focused on 2014 — a more realistic time frame to truly measure success given that this war was not properly resourced until 2010, and the year when Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said he would like his government to have full security control of the country.
This is more optimistic about what is happening in Afghanistan than many analysts would be, even if it implicitly acknowledges the shortcomings in the Afghan government. Lots of doubts out there whether he will be able to bring any significant number of troops home, and note he doesn't promise a specific number.
We are fighting the war that grew out of 9/11, and it deserves more from the President of the United States than a cursory paragraph that leads into the announcement that soon we will be able to escape. In fact, we are doing more that ?strengthening capacity?. We are prevailing against the enemy, and the president deserves to take credit for pursuing a winning strategy. The American people deserve to hear more about this war.
One graf for Pakistan, the most dangerous country in the world where liberals, including government ministers, fear for their lives, while the Islamist assassin of a liberal governor - the governor's former guard - receives Hazzahs from lawyers. Everyone worries whether the assassin's success in penetrating an elite guard unit means that Islamists could penetrate the protectors of Pakistani nukes. But not the time to talk of all this here.
This isn't new either, but on the right there are a lot of people who have been asking him to be clearer about our commitment. Here it is, but will they hear it?
Still amazing that the START got through Congress in the December flurry of legislative activity?along with new GI bill upgrades, defense bill, DADT, and the 9/11 first responders bill.
The fact that the Senate almost did not ratify START exemplifies just how toxic the partisanship in Washington has been (hopefully, the SOTU ?date night? with members of the two parties, gasp, sitting together will actually spill into their regular business this year). Ratifying this treaty, which commits the United States and Russia to reduce their nuclear arsenals by one third, should have been a no brainer for the Senate.
Instead, the Republicans, who did not want to give the Obama administration any checks in the ?win? column, put ratification in jeopardy. Thankfully, calmer heads prevailed. The Senate listened to the advice of elder statesmen and the military's top leadership and ratified the treaty in the lame duck session at the end of last year.
The country can be thankful this was the outcome. Had it not been, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised a renewed arms race — the last thing that the United States, or the world, needs.
This is a real achievement, and he is smart to give bipartisan credit.
A breathtaking statement. One might suggest that because we signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and Iran and North Korea signed too, nuclear weapons will never again be in the hands of irresponsible powers. And as the [resident goes on to tell us, they, er, do. Treaties do not make the world safe; enforcement of treaties does. Our track record on nuclear proliferation is not good, and worsening. Similarly, our aim with North Korea and Iran is not to achieve tight sanctions. It is to coerce or cajole them to abandon their illegal programs. Mission not accomplished.
More about what the public will regard as obscure topics like foreign assistance, Latin America and NATO than most presidents would care to say. But it is said well and will sound good to some relatively small constituencies.
This paragraph makes no sense. We have rarely been held in lower regard in the Americas. The Russian reset has ushered in a period of authoritarian retrenchment disastrous to us and our allies. NATO is revitalized? Where to begin. And where is the kitchen sink? It too belongs in this paragraph.
Is President Obama going to say anything about the latest failure in U.S.-brokered peace talks in the Middle East? Or is he just hoping we're not paying attention, and that we're fine with paying $30 billion over these ten years directly to the Israeli military, money that could be used for 600,000 new green jobs here at home?
Belated support for Tunisian rebels. Unsaid: No one knows where this uprising will lead, but everyone fears the whole region is on the brink of upheaval, with no competent, centrist leaders available to take the helm (because autocrats have destroyed them) and the Islamists waiting in the wings.
What's missing here is mention of today's big demonstrations in Egypt. How will he react if Mubarak starts looking shaky tomorrow? Will he stick with standing by the people and supporting democratic aspirations? Or will we prefer to shore up our friend, the bulwark against the Muslim brotherhood?
These are nice sentiments, but it takes more to stand with people who yearn to be free than a paragraph. What about Egypt? Where were we on Tunisia before the people spoke out? What about Lebanon? Saudi Arabia? China? We owe more to the world than lip service to freedom.
It's about time. The long-time dictator in Tunisia, just ousted by a popular revolt, was backed politically and militarily by the U.S. for more than two decades.
This is a very general point. No specifics whatsoever. Equipment issues were largely fixed years ago. Care and benefits is a nice gesture, but we need hard metrics for accountability and success. They have already enlisted in ?building our own nation?. What we need now is jobs.
Although our Armed Forces have shown remarkable resiliency, with many deploying multiple times since 2011, there are signs of stress on our force. Recent statistics show increases in suicides (for a second year in a row, more troops were lost to suicide than combat in Afghanistan or Iraq), post traumatic stress cases (the National Center for PTSD says that 10-18 percent of troops who return from Afghanistan or Iraq are likely to have PTSD), and alcoholism (according to an Army study, twice as many U.S. Army Soldiers in 2009 as compared to six years ago were either alcoholics or engage in damaging behavior such as binge drinking).
Someday I'd like to hear a president give credit to our civilians, including diplomats and aid workers. But I know it is asking too much.
How exactly does the president suggest we serve our troops well by slashing the national defense budget and disinvesting in the very equipment our troops need to remain alive, defending the nation? Policy requires more than sentiment. It requires allocation of the budget so that the fighters and tankers and combat vehicles our troops need and that the president has chosen to defund matter as much as the bridges the President so dearly wishes to repair.
Let's really support the troops — let's end the terrible failing wars in which they are forced to serve, and bring them home. Let's provide real health care when they return, and rebuild an economy that provides jobs for young people rather than have them drafted by poverty, lack of money for school, lack of jobs, lack of options.
Four are sitting with the First Lady. SSG Giunta, Medal of Honor recipient; Army SSG Brian Mast, who lost most of both legs in Afghanistan; Marine Gunny Nicole Mohabir, deployed three times to Iraq and Afghanistan; and Dr. Peter Rhee, Navy trauma surgeon who helped save Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Interesting: Guinta is featured in the groundbreaking documentary film, Restrepo, which was nominated for the Academy Award just this morning.
This is good to see [the remarks on ROTC]. Closest thing we've seen to a call to service in the military. It is long overdue, and will help break down the counter-productive divide that exists between our military and the elite colleges. I was proud that my school, Amherst College, recently changed its stance and allowed ROTC on campus.
President Obama is referring to the policy of many college campuses banning military recruiters and Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) from their campuses due to ?Don't Ask, Don't Tell,? the ban on allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly.
America's Armed Forces and universities will both be stronger if ROTC returns to campus, and President Obama is right to push for this change.
Nicely done: he's turned the necessary praise for our troops and commitment to supporting them into praise for their diversity, including gays. Then he pivots to give the right wing something it says it wants--return of ROTC to campuses. The guy plays basketball and knows how to pivot.
In reality, it may be that the above graf is the most important message for a president who wants to be a global leader. Only if Americans can pull together, a prerequisite for rebuilding the U.S. economy, can a U.S. president appear, once again, to be leading a powerful country. If America is riven with bitter political divisions, it adds to the image of a weakened nation. So it is the moment for a domestic speech that convincingly rallies the country, rather than a speech that focuses on problems abroad.
"That's how we will win the future." That is the thought that the White House -- the people around the President -- want Americans to take away more than any other from tonight's State of the Union.
This is pretty standard stuff about the American Dream, and I know a lot of people who would put footnotes all over it. But he's headed for the required optimistic finish, and this is a pretty good crescendo.
The words people use provide a window into the ways they are thinking and feeling. Obama's 2011 Annotated State of the Union Address is no different. By analyzing the ways he used almost-invisible pronouns, articles, and emotion words, we can see how he and his administration are starting to shift in their thinking from their last SOTUs.
Most striking was Obama's emotional distance. Compared to all other modern presidents, tonight's speech had virtually no positive or negative emotion words. Even the word ?I? was rarely heard. As always, his language betrayed complex and nuanced thinking but, compared to previous years, he was far more concrete and specific in his arguments than in the past.
This was a fascinating presidential speech from someone whose language was distant, impartial, and cool. Even more than his previous SOTUs, Obama has created a style that no Americans have seen in a U.S. president.
It is interesting that there is much more applause at the end of the speech than when the President explored in detail budget, energy, high speed rail and other infrastructure ideas to "win the future." There was occasional polite applause for most of the speech. His line praising teachers was an exception: when he called on American young people to go into teaching, he got a sustained standing ovation.
But the most enthusiastic interruptions for applause came near the end: everyone stood and cheered at the line no one could disagree with: "And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn't a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth."
It was a speech that sought to inspire, to lift visions. With several references to Americans' "can do" spirit and ability, the President presented an optimistic face to the daunting challenges that lie ahead, the sort of message his re-election campaign will want to adopt. Is it a coincidence that time and again, American voters have chosen the more optimistic candidate to be president?