Annotated Republican Response to 2011 State of the Union
Jan. 25, 2011
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Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan delivered the GOP response to President Obama's 2011 State of the Union address. Click on the red links to the left of the text to take a closer look his speech through expert analysis, NewsHour videos and more. The text of the remarks below is as prepared for delivery and released by the GOP caucus. Watch the full video of Ryan's remarks.
REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis.: Good evening. I'm Congressman Paul Ryan from Janesville, Wisconsin — and Chairman here at the House Budget Committee.
President Obama just addressed a Congressional chamber filled with many new faces. One face we did not see tonight was that of our friend and colleague, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. We all miss Gabby and her cheerful spirit; and we are praying for her return to the House Chamber.
Earlier this month, President Obama spoke movingly at a memorial event for the six people who died on that violent morning in Tucson. Still, there are no words that can lift the sorrow that now engulfs the families and friends of the fallen.
What we can do is assure them that the nation is praying for them; that, in the words of the Psalmist, the Lord heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds; and that over time grace will replace grief.
As Gabby continues to make encouraging progress, we must keep her and the others in our thoughts as we attend to the work now before us.
Tonight, the President focused a lot of attention on our economy in general — and on our deficit and debt in particular.
He was right to do so, and some of his words were reassuring. As Chairman of the House Budget Committee, I assure you that we want to work with the President to restrain federal spending.
In one of our first acts in the new majority, House Republicans voted to cut Congress's own budget. And just today, the House voted to restore the spending discipline that Washington sorely needs.
The reason is simple.
A few years ago, reducing spending was important. Today, it's imperative. Here's why.
We face a crushing burden of debt. The debt will soon eclipse our entire economy, and grow to catastrophic levels in the years ahead.
On this current path, when my three children — who are now 6, 7, and 8 years old — are raising their own children, the Federal government will double in size, and so will the taxes they pay.
No economy can sustain such high levels of debt and taxation. The next generation will inherit a stagnant economy and a diminished country.
Frankly, it's one of my greatest concerns as a parent — and I know many of you feel the same way.
Our debt is the product of acts by many presidents and many Congresses over many years. No one person or party is responsible for it.
There is no doubt the President came into office facing a severe fiscal and economic situation.
Unfortunately, instead of restoring the fundamentals of economic growth, he engaged in a stimulus spending spree that not only failed to deliver on its promise to create jobs, but also plunged us even deeper into debt.
The facts are clear: Since taking office, President Obama has signed into law spending increases of nearly 25% for domestic government agencies — an 84% increase when you include the failed stimulus.
All of this new government spending was sold as “investment.” Yet after two years, the unemployment rate remains above 9% and government has added over $3 trillion to our debt.
Then the President and his party made matters even worse, by creating a new open-ended health care entitlement.
What we already know about the President's health care law is this: Costs are going up, premiums are rising, and millions of people will lose the coverage they currently have. Job creation is being stifled by all of its taxes, penalties, mandates and fees.
Businesses and unions from around the country are asking the Obama Administration for waivers from the mandates. Washington should not be in the business of picking winners and losers. The President mentioned the need for regulatory reform to ease the burden on American businesses. We agree — and we think his health care law would be a great place to start.
Last week, House Republicans voted for a full repeal of this law, as we pledged to do, and we will work to replace it with fiscally responsible, patient-centered reforms that actually reduce costs and expand coverage.
Health care spending is driving the explosive growth of our debt. And the President's law is accelerating our country toward bankruptcy.
Our debt is out of control. What was a fiscal challenge is now a fiscal crisis.
We cannot deny it; instead we must, as Americans, confront it responsibly.
And that is exactly what Republicans pledge to do.
Americans are skeptical of both political parties, and that skepticism is justified — especially when it comes to spending. So hold all of us accountable.
In this very room, the House will produce, debate, and advance a budget. Last year — in an unprecedented failure— Congress chose not to pass, or even propose a budget. The spending spree continued unchecked.
We owe you a better choice and a different vision.
Our forthcoming budget is our obligation to you — to show you how we intend to do things differently … how we will cut spending to get the debt down… help create jobs and prosperity … and reform government programs. If we act soon, and if we act responsibly, people in and near retirement will be protected.
These budget debates are not just about the programs of government; they're also about the purpose of government.
So I'd like to share with you the principles that guide us. They are anchored in the wisdom of the founders; in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence; and in the words of the American Constitution.
They have to do with the importance of limited government; and with the blessing of self-government.
We believe government's role is both vital and limited — to defend the nation from attack and provide for the common defense … to secure our borders… to protect innocent life… to uphold our laws and Constitutional rights … to ensure domestic tranquility and equal opportunity … and to help provide a safety net for those who cannot provide for themselves.
We believe that the government has an important role to create the conditions that promote entrepreneurship, upward mobility, and individual responsibility.
We believe, as our founders did, that “the pursuit of happiness” depends upon individual liberty; and individual liberty requires limited government.
Limited government also means effective government. When government takes on too many tasks, it usually doesn't do any of them very well. It's no coincidence that trust in government is at an all-time low now that the size of government is at an all-time high.
The President and the Democratic Leadership have shown, by their actions, that they believe government needs to increase its size and its reach, its price tag and its power.
Whether sold as “stimulus” or repackaged as “investment,” their actions show they want a federal government that controls too much; taxes too much; and spends too much in order to do too much.
And during the last two years, that is exactly what we have gotten — along with record deficits and debt — to the point where the President is now urging Congress to increase the debt limit.
We believe the days of business as usual must come to an end. We hold to a couple of simple convictions: Endless borrowing is not a strategy; spending cuts have to come first.
Our nation is approaching a tipping point.
We are at a moment, where if government's growth is left unchecked and unchallenged, America's best century will be considered our past century. This is a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.
Depending on bureaucracy to foster innovation, competitiveness, and wise consumer choices has never worked — and it won't work now.
We need to chart a new course.
Speaking candidly, as one citizen to another: We still have time… but not much time. If we continue down our current path, we know what our future will be.
Just take a look at what's happening to Greece, Ireland, the United Kingdom and other nations in Europe. They didn't act soon enough; and now their governments have been forced to impose painful austerity measures: large benefit cuts to seniors and huge tax increases on everybody.
Their day of reckoning has arrived. Ours is around the corner. That is why we must act now.
Some people will back away from this challenge. But I see this challenge as an opportunity to rebuild what Lincoln called the “central ideas” of the Republic.
We believe a renewed commitment to limited government will unshackle our economy and create millions of new jobs and opportunities for all people, of every background, to succeed and prosper. Under this approach, the spirit of initiative — not political clout — determines who succeeds.
Millions of families have fallen on hard times not because of our ideals of free enterprise — but because our leaders failed to live up to those ideals; because of poor decisions made in Washington and Wall Street that caused a financial crisis, squandered our savings, broke our trust, and crippled our economy.
Today, a similar kind of irresponsibility threatens not only our livelihoods but our way of life.
We need to reclaim our American system of limited government, low taxes, reasonable regulations, and sound money, which has blessed us with unprecedented prosperity. And it has done more to help the poor than any other economic system ever designed. That's the real secret to job creation — not borrowing and spending more money in Washington.
Limited government and free enterprise have helped make America the greatest nation on earth.
These are not easy times, but America is an exceptional nation. In all the chapters of human history, there has never been anything quite like America. The American story has been cherished, advanced, and defended over the centuries.
And it now falls to this generation to pass on to our children a nation that is stronger, more vibrant, more decent, and better than the one we inherited.
Thank you and good night.
Michael Gerson is a columnist for the Washington Post and former aide to President George W. Bush.
Robert Laszewski is president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates Inc. and is a former COO of a health and group benefits insurer.
James W. Pennebaker
James W. Pennebaker is the Regents Centennial Professor and Chair of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.
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.
Economics Correspondent Paul Solman has posted at some length on the SOTU speechifying. Here's an excerpt concerning Republican Representative Paul Ryan and his budget cuts:
"(T)he question for Ryan and the Republican leadership is whether they will really press forward with some of those cuts. Flipping channels last night, I noted that virtually every commentator, including those on Fox, pointed out that most of the Federal budget is apparently untouchable even to most Republicans — defense (20%), Social Security (20%), Medicare/Medicaid (20%), Federal and VA retirement benefits (7%) and interest on our national debt (6 percent). Thus the size of promised cuts in "everything else" would convulse the country dramatically: education (3 percent), science and medicine (2 percent), food stamps (1/2 percent) and yes, even public broadcasting (something like .00003 percent, though someone might want to check my math).
Representative Ryan invoked the "austerity" of Europe's debtor nations:
"They didn't act soon enough; and now their governments have been forced to impose painful austerity measures: large benefit cuts to seniors and huge tax increases on everybody. Their day of reckoning has arrived. Ours is around the corner. That is why we must act now." We know something about this, as a story of ours on Euro-debts ran Monday night.
But the same question must be posed to Representative Ryan as to the President, and for matter the Tea Party's Michelle Bachmann, who spoke last — on CNN and online: How do we cut our spending WITHOUT at least some degree of austerity? Or are today's Americans, despite our talk of bi-partisan restoration and competitiveness, much like yesterday's? We want everything that money can buy; we just don't much like paying for it.
Congressman Ryan made his case directly and with the emphasis strongly on spending. With President Obama, there was a sense of this is what we can do, and with Congressman Ryan there was a sense of if we don't do it, this is what will happen. And with a little bit of a Paul Revere sound to his speech.
[The speech was] straightforward, serious. He did not present his own proposals or plans as he was speaking for the Party. And he is of course the architect of the principal Republican budget-cutting proposal.
I was disappointed in the Republican response.
Congressman Ryan said, "Last week, House Republicans voted for a full repeal of this law, as we pledged to do, and we will work to replace it with fiscally responsible, patient-centered reforms that actually reduce costs and expand coverage."
We all know the Republicans are not going to "repeal and replace" the new health care law. The polls also tell us that most voters have varying concerns about the new law.
On health care, I will suggest that most Americans would really like to see Washington focused on "fix and improve."
What Republicans could have done tonight is to talk about the potential to find common ground in health care. I believe there are plenty of opportunities to combine the Democratic objectives of universal coverage with the Republican objectives of choice and individual responsibility.
I wish Congressman Ryan would have emphasized that rather than pointing to the House vote to repeal that will accomplish nothing.
They have no ideas on replacing it, just repeal. So all those people the president mentions in the health care section of his speech would get nothing under the Republican plan. All agree that the previous status quo is unacceptable, but that is exactly where the Republicans would take us.
I think this was a tough serious little speech. It was very philosophic. He kept talking about limited government. He seemed to imply that this was at stake. That the principle of limited government was at stake given these decisions on the deficit. I think that is what appealed to Tea Party people, not just to Republican mainstream. And I think that it is Reagan-like in a certain way.
There's two kinds of conservatives: there is what I call a “five-minutes-to-midnight” conservative and a “five-minutes-to-dawn conservative.” Ronald Reagan was always a “five-minutes-to-dawn” conservative -- “Things are bad but they are going to be better.” Jack Kemp was in that school.
I though Paul Ryan came closer to the “five-minutes-to-midnight.” And the one line in it that surprised me, he said, ”This is the future in which we transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-body people into lives of complacency and dependency.” I hadn't heard that since the welfare reform debate of 1995 and 1996. That was the one sort of jarring note, I thought, that may have been a concession to a particular constituency. But I think that's the contrast. If I had one major criticism of the speech was that there wasn't enough optimism -- “If we do this, if we have this castor oil and we have this cold shower and root canal, that it's going to be better and it's going to be a lot better.” That did not come through to me.
We're still in the early stages where each side is feeling the other out. Just as President Obama, to his credit, doesn't want to absolutely say, “Read my lips: don't you dare touch Social Security,” he's not taking an absolutist position.
By the same token, Republicans who are seen as absolutist are trying to moderate their opening position, if you will. Ryan talked in generalities, and actually really avoided coming across that way, aside from the kind of grim reaper talk about “We're all going over the cliff if we don't address this soon,” which I thought was interesting. He was no Ronald Reagan. It was like the “Morning in America” ad in the ‘84 campaign but with a “u” — he was “Mourning in America.”
Look, it's probably unrealistic to believe that the State of the Union and its follow-up are the vehicles to have this thoughtful, principled discussion of the nature of government and all that. Frankly, we can't do it in a campaign season, so why think we can do it one night in January?
The disappointment I felt, it wasn't in the sense that I thought, “Gee, the president didn't give a good speech,” or, “Gee, Paul Ryan turned out to be another Bobby Jindal but with better hair.” It probably just illustrates the limitations of the event itself, which is swallowed up in all the hype. I tell people that the way to understand the State of the Union is that it's Washington's Oscar night, without the fashion.
There is such an inverse propulsion of hype about the State of the Union to its substance. And I don't think this year was any different. What I thought might be potentially different was that for the first time, the opposition's response mattered, first of all, because of who they had picked, and more than that, it mattered because presumably they were going to suggest how progressive, how imaginative, how confrontational they were going to be in attacking the deficit. In effect, the argument would be joined, and you'd then have this real debate leading up to and presumably including the presidential election about how much government we can afford, how much long term, particularly with Social Security and Medicare, when and whether and how are we going to address these long-term demographic and economic issues. That's the debate the country needs to have. I thought potentially that debate might have been launched last night.
Paul Ryan's response reflected a different and more traditional thinking style. Compared to Obama, his text was more emotional -- both in positive emotion words and negative emotion words. He attempted to convey a greater sense of certainty in his statements, relying on words such as "must," "all," "exactly," etc. Most obvious, however, was that he made references to money and finances at more than twice the rate of Obama.