Last night, President Obama gave his fourth State of the Union Address. The full speech lasted approximately one hour, with long periods of commentary and analysis before and after. The rebuttal for the Republicans was handled by Marco Rubio, who also handled his extreme thirst very well. The Tea Party also had their say via Rand Paul. A comparison of these three views is available here, though I caution that it is not exactly neutral (it's the only one I could find).
Here's a breakdown of the major issues that were discussed in the speech and responses last night:
The Economy: Obama started out by laying out his vision for a new, 21st Century US economy that focuses on the technology and training of the future. He talked about the recovery that has been slow and unsteady, yet inevitable, over the last several years. He also discussed his plans to help cut through the regulatory red tape that keeps businesses back, making it cheaper and easier to conduct business in the US in the hopes of enticing more business and jobs to our shores. Obama's tagline here was "we don't need a larger government; we need a smarter one."
That's good news to me. It all sounds great, and if Congress will work with him then I see no reason this can't happen. After all, Republicans want to de-regulate and reduce the size of government. They want to encourage business growth. That sounds like a great place to start the conversation to me. Of course, no one side has all the answers, but it seems as though this vision of Obama's should be at least considered by the Right.
National Debt: Coincidentally, the Treasury Department had some interesting information to share regarding our national debt the other day. Obama made it clear that he wants to move some of our funds around, shore up certain programs while carefully cutting others. Again, he talked about reducing regulatory issues to help cut costs at the federal level. Obama also called for revenue increases and spending cuts to take place, calling on Congress to continue with a bipartisan plan to balance the budget.
Again, sounds pretty good, and the Treasury Department's report makes it seem as though we're on the right path. I think that we should start with a fiscal house-cleaning, by which I mean reorganizing our regulatory systems, cutting out waste and abuse, and redistributing money to vital programs. Only when that has been done should we look at tax increases, and only on those who already pay the least, and only so much that we can pay for all our programs. I will say, though, that I oppose the balanced budget amendment, because it forces government into regressive tax and spending policies due to tax limits. More on that in a later post. Suffice it to say, we need revenue and spending cuts to take place in a common-sense fashion, and only when needed.
Immigration: This is an issue that the President largely glossed over in terms of border issues. Instead, he fell back on his record of deportation, which is the most robust of any recent president. Obama called for comprehensive immigration reform, including pathways to citizenship that were easier to understand and more abundant, and which will require background checks and tax registration.
In this case, I wish Obama had been a little more direct. He's got a good record on immigration, but he didn't use that. I think the idea of comprehensive reform is good, but he's going to have a difficult time convincing people that it's not amnesty. I think Congress has more pressing issues, and that this one may fall by the wayside. However, we will eventually get around to fixing our immigration system by redefining the laws, enforcing our laws, and creating a system where it is more attractive to come here legally than illegally.
Sequestration: Obama talked about this briefly as well, making the point that sudden, deep cuts that were planned by Congress, passed by him as part of a debt ceiling deal, and since resurrected by Congress, would be bad for the economy. He called on Congress, like with the national debt discussion, to work out a debt deal that prevented the sequestered cuts from taking place.
Again, I think Obama should have been a little tougher here. The sequester was not his idea (as many Republicans, including Rand Paul in his rebuttal, have claimed), but he has not been working as closely with Congress as he could to avoid them. He's laying the responsibility solely on their shoulders, which is actually right where it belongs. After all, by the coveted separation of powers, Obama should have no say whatsoever in budget issues. However, I feel as though he should challenge Congress a bit more to work with his administration to meet the debt needs of the government in a way that prevents these automatic cuts that no one wants.
Energy/Infrastructure: Obama was very vocal in his support for the next generation of energy. He called for more solar, more wind, and more natural gas exploration. He called for a reinvestment in our roads and bridges, in making our infrastructure work cheaper and smarter and faster to help businesses cut costs. Obama talked about developing more green energy through wind and solar power, and tapping into natural gas to help bring America back to the forefront of energy production.
In this case, I think Obama hit the nail right on the head. He was clear that we need more renewable energy, yet also clear that he's willing to let the natural gas boom continue. I think that this year will be an important one where we balance our energy needs, environmental needs, and financial needs in a way that delivers comprehensive energy reform. I think we need to invest in our own technology, our own development of energy, and create the energy solutions of the future right here at home.
Education: Obama talked about education briefly as well, focusing on his plan to expand pre-k education to nearly every child in the United States. He called on Congress to pass education reforms that refocus on technology skills (science, math, etc.), and also called on Congress to work with schools around the country to provide programs that encourage students to pursue higher education and to go into the technology, manufacturing, and engineering fields.
This was one of my favorite parts of the speech, because Obama laid out such a great plan for our educational future. I absolutely agree with him that we need pre-k to be available to every single child, especially those in low-income situations. I think we also need to work on more localized standards of education rather than nationalized standards, since cultural differences from one place to another can make a huge difference in learning style and progress. My own personal views on education are still way off the status quo, but this would be a good way to move toward successful education practices.
Military: Obama talked briefly on our military development and successes. He congratulated the US on our plan for the drawdown in Afghanistan, and our reinvention of warfare with the use of drones and diplomatic support to local military forces. Obama emphasized his commitment to preventing terror attacks on US soil, and to targeting key terror cells in foreign nations that present threats to the United States and its foreign interests.
This is one of those topics that is a little touchy with me, especially considering North Korea's recent exploits. I think we need to focus on keeping our men and women out of harm's way, but must also focus on preventing as much collateral damage as possible. That means, highly focused targeting of terror suspects, and preventing civilian casualties whenever possible. Overall, I think Obama was very strong on this part of the speech.
Guns/Domestic Violence/Equal Rights: Each of these topics sort of rolled into one another towards the end of the speech. While Obama did not come right out and endorse assault weapon bans or anything like that, he strongly condemned the recent violence in our country and called for Congress to review common-sense legislation to prevent further massacres. He also chastised Congress (House Republicans, mostly), for failing to pass VAWA, and for slowing down things like equal pay laws that help women in the workplace.
This is the point that seemed the most tense for me, and when Obama was most likely to attack the Republicans. He was very clear that he did not approve of doing nothing over the gun debate, and was equally clear that he expected Congress to get it's shit together and work on a solution.