The 2013 SOTU Recap

“He shall from time to time give to the Congress information on the state of the Union…”

This text is taken from Article II, Section 3 of the United States Constitution. This is the State of the Union Clause. For many years, up through the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson, the President sent written communication to the Congress to be read by the clerks. Thomas Jefferson was the first to do this, and his procedure was followed up through 1913, when President Wilson went back to the Congress to speak in person. You can read more about the history of the State of the Union Address here.

President Barack Obama was formally invited to give the SOTU address by House Speaker John Boehner January 11, 2013. The speech was delivered to a joint session of Congress (both the House and the Senate). Speaker Boehner referenced the need for a “willingness to seek common ground as well as Presidential leadership” from President Obama.

The full text of the speech is available here if you want to read. I cannot sat for certain because I did not watch the speech live, but I believe this is the speech as it was written, but it might have been delivered differently.

These are my thoughts on the content of the speech.

President Obama  said there was progress to report, including mentions of the War in Afghanistan, the economic recession, sales of automobiles made in the USA, and stating that the housing market, wall street, and Americans were doing better. He hit on a still-t00-high unemployment rate, wages, corporate profits, and the desire for a renewed middle class.

He then discussed debt and deficits, a sore subject for fiscal conservatives. He trumpeted a savings of $2.5 trillion through spending cuts and tax increases. However, this figure is largely future savings. The CBO (Congressional Budget Office, a non-partisan government analysis group) seriously doubts the claims. These savings are far too dependent on current levels of taxation and spending. If we’ve learned anything from our federal government, things generally cost much more than is expected (I’m not sure why we haven’t figured this out yet), while tax receipts aren’t set in stone either. This is a problem, plain and simple. We cannot continue to spend at current levels, and increasing taxes will not come close to covering the deficits we currently have and the debt we hold (nearly $16.5 trillion).

The President laid out a plan to decrease Medicare spending (which is suspect). He mentioned closing tax loopholes, which I wholeheartedly support, and should be supported by everyone serving on the Hill. We do need to cut spending, and we can increase revenues by simply eliminating deductions, loopholes, and shelters.

Side note – I am personally in favor of eliminating the automatic deduction from paychecks and requiring all Americans to pay federal and state taxes manually so we can all watch the money enter our bank accounts, only to go right back out.

The President referenced the issue of moving from one “manufactured crisis” to another. Well said, but both parties are terribly guilty of this. He mentions his 2011 jobs plan, and asked the Congress to pass the rest stating, “nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.” He’s said this fairly often over the past four years. With added debts of $5.8 trillion under his watch, it’s tough to believe.

He went on to quote numbers about jobs added (not really true). He mentioned companies bringing production back to the states from abroad. He announced the launch of three manufacturing hubs. He referenced the “Space Race” although NASA faces massive budget cuts. He discussed climate change, including committing to executive actions if the Congress would not. Clean Energy, Natural Gas, the cutting of red tape for drilling (Keystone Pipeline anyone?), infrastructure investments including repair to 70,000 bridges across the country, and making it easier to buy a home.

Next up: Education. There’s a lot of information in here, and it’s important to understand that Education is a disaster. It’s easy to say we need this or that, but education is a mess for tons of reasons. He mentioned more pre-schools funding, college affordability, high-school diplomas = good jobs in the future.

Immigration reform was next. From what I could tell from my twitter feed this was one portion of the SOTU that got a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle. (Side note: earlier this month I spoke on a panel at Otter Creek Church re: Immigration and Faith in America. This is an issue in desperate need of a solution) President Obama challenged the Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reforms, and said he would sign them right away. That suggests he’d sign anything, but I think reasonable people know that is not the case.

President Obama then discussing raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9.00 an hour. In my opinion, the minimum wage is a joke. We need better solutions for wage growth in America, and it shouldn’t begin with the federal government imposing wage prices. He then discussed rebuilding run down communities throughout the nation, doing more to encourage fatherhood (GOP talking point, +1 to the President), and the thriving middle class.

Next up was the Military and Foreign Affairs. He announced the removal of 34,000 troops from Afghanistan over the next year, ending our troop occupation in the nation. He discussed Al Qaeda, calling the terror group “a shadow of its former self.” He discussed the concern of nuclear proliferation, naming North Korea, Iran, and Russia. In a move I can only assume drew a slow-clap from by brother, Logan, President Obama referenced a desire for a stronger cyber-defense system and increased network security. He finished by committing to continuing support for our troops abroad.

Then the moment we were all expecting: gun violence. No issue has the attention of more people in the nation at this moment. You can read what he said for yourself. He didn’t once mention an “Assault Weapons Ban” nor did he specifically mention handgun violence. He did mention the specific locations where mass shootings took place, and names of victims of gun violence. And then he closed with a “God bless the United States of America.”

So, that was the State of the Union. Personally, most of these recommendations don’t strike me as very progressive or liberal. It’s the same old solutions dressed up in new talk. The desire for bipartisanship, economic reforms, tax reforms, education reforms, etc. All of this is great to hear, but I don’t expect much to come from this.

  • I don’t expect any gun control measures to pass the house. I could see gun registration measures passing the house, but it would be close.
  • I don’t expect Education to magically be fixed in the next four years. As long as teachers matter more than the students, and expectations for students are held down, we will be in this mess for a while. This also goes for College affordability.
  • Here’s a silly, but interesting concept – why not have colleges invest in the programs they believe in? Students pay NOTHING for school, and the college gets 1% of the annual salary of its graduates. If your institution is doing a good job, then you have more money to invest in programs. If not, sorry.)
  • I expect the economy to continue its slow crawl back to growth, but not if a $9.00 minimum wage increase is passed. Bad news for unemployment, consumer spending, etc.

I could say more, but I didn’t watch. I’ve seen this speech before. Lofty goals, no real commitment to working together.

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One response to “The 2013 SOTU Recap”

  1. Stephen Collings says :

    You said: ““nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.” He’s said this fairly often over the past four years. With added debts of $5.8 trillion under his watch, it’s tough to believe.”

    I’d argue otherwise. The deficit has in fact held or gone down every year of the Obama administration.
    http://www.davemanuel.com/history-of-deficits-and-surpluses-in-the-united-states.php
    (Remember that the 2009 budget, when the deficit spiked to $1.4 trillion, was signed by Bush in mid-2008.)

    So Obama saying he won’t add to the deficit is easy to believe, because it’s been true every year so far. If he’d said he won’t add to the debt, that would be difficult to believe, because it would require that he completely eliminate the massive deficits left by Bush. The largest single cause of those deficits is the lower tax receipts caused by the 2007 recession. Fixing the economy, and thus increasing tax receipts back to their usual level, will take years, no matter what the federal government does today.

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