The State of the Union Address: All Rhetoric and No Reality by Gregory Hilton

The State of the Union address was a real setback for those who were hoping the President would move to the center. The pundits who expected a more moderate President now realize this is not going to happen.
Much of the rhetoric was not new, but as usual, the mainstream media reaction was overwhelmingly positive. The BBC analysis was glowing, and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews exuded “I forgot he was black tonight”.
The President deserves praise for the Afghan troop surge, the modest spending freeze and cutting the capital gains tax on small business investment. Other moves which will be popular with the conservative coalition are his announced support for nuclear energy, off shore drilling, clean coal technology and earmark reform.
The President did not hesitate to advocate unpopular policies. Despite the bleak outlook on Capitol Hill, he will continue to push cap-and-trade legislation which is radioactive in energy producing states. He said “I want to change the tone,” but then became the first President to criticize the Supreme Court in their presence.
The President also gave Republicans plenty of campaign fodder by advocating expensive new programs directed at jobs and a high speed rail project, and he called for increased corporate taxes.
The speech may help the President with average Americans, but the tone appeared to be a lecture to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Supreme Court, Congress and the American people. He feels the rest of us are not working hard enough to ensure his success. My observations are as follows:
• The President said “we’ve excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.” I know of 13 lobbyists who have been named to major positions, including the cabinet, in the Obama administration. The President has issued 7 waivers of the lobbying ban for his White House staff.
• He complained about the Bush deficit, but did not mention that in one year those deficits have tripled. The amount of this debt is on pace to double in five years, and triple in ten. The federal debt is already over $100,000 per household.
• After repeatedly criticizing the Bush Administration, the President again took credit for ending the war in Iraq. He failed to give credit to his predecessor for the surge that actually won the war. He could not do that because Obama was an opponent of the surge, and was advocating immediate withdrawal. Biden wanted to split Iraq into three parts, and Harry Reid said the war was lost. None of that stopped the President from claiming it was his agenda which resulted in the Iraq war ending “responsibly.”
• He claims two million people have jobs today because of his $787 billion dollar stimulus bill. That would be equal to $395,000 per job. There is also little evidence to support his claim of two million new jobs, and the statistic is rejected by the Congressional Budget Office.
• He says another 1.5 million more jobs will be added because of the stimulus. That would bring the cost down to $224,000 dollars per job.
• A spending freeze would have been a good idea, even if it was not a net spending reduction. However, the very limited plan of the President appears to be more of a public relations gesture because the savings will be less than 1% of the deficit.
• It is doubtful the President’s spending commission will achieve anything. It does not have fast track authority to force the Congress to make reductions. The President said the commission will not be “one of those Washington gimmicks.” The AP responded, “Left unspoken in that assurance was the fact that the commission won’t have any teeth.” His commission has no chance of success because the idea was already rejected by the Senate’s Democratic super majority.
• The spending freeze will not go into effect until next year and the PAYGO (pay as you go) guidelines are all about a tax increase. This is already happening as the Bush tax cuts expire. They will be arguing that we must have tax increases going forward in order to pay for new programs. If we stop increasing the size of government, the deficit would take care of itself.
• The future tax increases will apply to all legislation except his second stimulus, which is now being called a jobs bill. Over 80% of the money the Bush administration lent to banks has already been repaid with interest. Obama will not use these funds to reduce the deficit but they will instead go to his jobs program.
• Speaking of the financial reform bill, he promised to fight the lobbyists. The President said “if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back until we get it right. We’ve got to get it right.” The President will never veto any legislation passed by the Democratic Congress.
• The President said Congress should fix the recent ruling of the Supreme Court on campaign finance. He claims foreign nationals and corporations will be allowed to intervene in U.S. elections because of the Supreme Court decision. That is not true. The Court held that 2 U.S.C. Section 441a, which prohibits all corporate political spending, is unconstitutional. Foreign money can not influence our elections because that is already illegal. The President spent $730 million on his campaign. He took huge sums from labor unions, lawyers, investment banks, and Fannie Mae. Now he is worried the playing field will be level. The First Amendment has been under assault for decades, and this Supreme Court has taken a giant step toward its restoration.
• Professor Randy Barnett of the Georgetown Law Center had this reaction: “In the history of the State of the Union has any President ever called out the Supreme Court by name, and egged on the Congress to jeer a Supreme Court decision, while the Justices were seated politely before him surrounded by hundreds [of] Congressmen? To call upon the Congress to countermand (somehow) by statute a constitutional decision, indeed a decision applying the First Amendment? What can this possibly accomplish besides alienating Justice Kennedy who wrote the opinion being attacked. Contrary to what we heard during the last administration, the Court may certainly be the object of presidential criticism without posing any threat to its independence. But this was a truly shocking lack of decorum and disrespect towards the Supreme Court for which an apology is in order. A new tone indeed.”
• Obama implied Republicans are not serious about health care reform. He failed to mention that the GOP has been completely locked out of all negotiations, and the Republican alternative reform package was immediately rejected in committee and on the floor. All attempts at tort reform were dismissed right away. It would drastically reduce health care costs and the liability insurance doctors are forced to carry. He claims his bill would reduce the deficit, but that would only happen through accounting tricks.
• On gays in the military, he asked Congress to overturn the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. This had a definite negative impact on Bill Clinton’s approval rating during his first year. In his memoirs, Clinton regretted making this the subject of his first executive order. The law prohibits officials from inquiring into a servicemember’s sexual orientation, but allows the services to take action against those who disclose their homosexuality by word or action.
• Taxing banks will be politically popular but it means our fees will go up.
The Republican Party in January of 2009 urged Obama to create jobs by boosting hiring incentives through small business tax relief. Using Obama’s own formula a year later, it can be seen that they GOP plan would have created twice the jobs at half the cost. The White House responded with the $800 billion pork laden stimulus. Over 3 million lost jobs later, Americans can only lament the squandered opportunity. The President has had the GOP’s latest no-cost jobs plan since December.
The new plan is described by House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) as a proposal “for common-sense initiatives, such as passing pending free-trade deals and ditching unnecessary regulations and tax increases that stifle job growth.” Two months have gone by without any response from the White House.

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