Much of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address tonight concerned the competitiveness of the United States in the global market and echoed promises and challenges Americans have heard from every president before him.
But he also said the U.S. will begin bringing its troops home from Afghanistan in July, noted that homosexuality will no longer be a barrier to service in the military, and—likely as a sweetener to the new Republican majority—called on colleges and universities across the country to open their campuses to military recruiters.
He vowed to see through meaningful immigration reform, do away with No Child Left Behind—the educational centerpiece of the Bush Administration, and cut corporate taxes.
The newest and most unexpected idea was his commitment to reorganize the federal government.
Twelve departments concern themselves with exports, he said, and pointed out that the Department of the Interior is in charge of salmon when they are in fresh water, but the Department of Commerce is in charge of them when they are in saltwater.
“I’ve heard it gets more complicated when you smoke ‘em,” he said.
Reorganizing the federal government will take the kind of political will that only someone who’s ready to walk away from it can muster.
Obama’s continual drumbeat regarding a recovering economy was small on actual numbers but big on anecdotes of small businesses meeting the challenge of retooling themselves—like the roofing company that repaired the Pentagon after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and then went bust only to reinvent itself as a solar panel company with help from Obama’s recovery funding—or stepping up to staggering problems, like the tiny Pennsylvania company that designed the equipment that saved a group of trapped Chilean miners last year.
“The stock market has come roaring back, corporate profits are up, and the economy is growing again,” he said.
Based on a look at the latest data from the U.S. Census bureau—data collected in 2009—America’s median income has been in a near steady decline since 1990, with the worst drop occurring between 2000 and 2009.
Some of Obama’s action items, like maintaining the health care reform package passed last year, were Democrat-pleasers, but many were balanced by conciliatory gestures to the GOP. Here are the concrete bits of those:
–Cut subsidies to oil companies. “I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions of dollars we give to oil companies,” he said, and use the money on clean energy options instead. The goal is to have 80 percent of America’s energy come from clean energy sources by 2035.
–Replace No Child Left Behind with something “more flexible.” Obama said a quarter of American students don’t finish high school and the U.S. is now 9th in the world in the proportion of young people who have college degrees. Wants to encourage good teachers and “stop making excuses for bad ones.” He said, to those who want to become math or science teachers, “Your country needs you.” Apparently we can do without the lessons in perseverance and sacrifice in our history and our literature. Thanks, Obama.
–Reform Immigration. “There are 100,000 children who are excelling in our schools who are not Americans,” Obama said, and pointed to the thousands who come here from other countries to study at our universities. “And yet, when they have earned their advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.”
–Expand high-speed rail. He cited a goal of having 80 percent of Americans with access to high-speed rail within 20 years.
–Reform the tax code. “A parade of lobbyists,” he said, are responsible for twisting the tax code until today we have “One of the highest corporate tax rates in the world.” Obama plans to cut those. This was clearly a bouquet to Republicans. Obama challenged Congress to “Lower the tax rate for the first time in 25 years without adding to the deficit.” He also wants the individual tax code simplified.
–Double American exports by 2014. He referred to deals recently cut with China and India that will bring 250,000 new jobs to the U.S., as well as a deal with South Korea that will bring 70,000 jobs to the U.S.
–Streamline regulation without gutting laws that protect our water, air and wildlife. “When we find rules that put unnecessary burdens on businesses, we will fix them,” Obama said.
–Decrease the deficit by freezing domestic spending for the next five years—although he admitted that domestic spending makes up only 12 percent of the federal budget. He also thanked Defense Secretary Robert Gates for being willing to substantially cut the Department of Defense’s budget.
–Consider reforming Medicare and Medicaid—which could mean cuts—but also execute real “medical malpractice reform to reign in frivolous lawsuits” (another hat tip to the GOP).
–“Strengthen social security” and not leave “guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.”
–Trumpeted progress in Afghanistan and said “We will begin to bring the troops home in July.” And then he noted the end of don’t-ask-don’t tell, saying “Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.” Obama called on colleges and universities across the nation to “Open your campuses to recruiters.”