As one would expect, the State of the Union address had a mix of good, bad, and ugly.
I've decided to annotate the transcript below, with links where appropriate.
[Note: I've ignored the introductory rhetoric.]
Here are the results of your efforts: The lowest unemployment rate in over five years.This is true; however, we are still not on track to reach full employment until the next decade, and the percentage of people not in the labor force is at the highest level since 1978. Some of that is a result of the baby boomer generation reaching retirement; however, it also reflects to the incompleteness of the unemployment rate as a statistic. If you've given up hope because of no prospects, you are categorized as "not in the labor force," not "unemployed." The real unemployment rate currently stands at 13.1%.
A rebounding housing market.I would turn you to any number of articles by financial journalist David Dayen here: for example, this one on hedge funds buying up properties, and this one on the failed housing policy from this administration.
A manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s.The Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Obama promotes later in this speech, would reverse this trend.
More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world – the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years.The upcoming IPCC report highlights the necessity of leaving fossil fuels in the ground if we are to have any chance at mitigating climate change.
Our deficits – cut by more than half.Let Paul Krugman and CEPR's Dean Baker explain to you why cutting deficits in a downturn is bad policy.
And for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is.Whether this is a positive or not depends on whether these businesses are creating good jobs or not. Most of the jobs created since the recession have been low-paying jobs, and the share of tax revenue from the corporate income tax has been at historical lows.
That’s why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America. After five years of grit and determined effort, the United States is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth.Garden-variety exceptionalism.
The question for everyone in this chamber, running through every decision we make this year, is whether we are going to help or hinder this progress. For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government. It’s an important debate – one that dates back to our very founding. But when that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy – when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States – then we are not doing right by the American people.The debate is rarely actually about the “size” of the government. Both parties are willing to expand the government for their own preferred ends (cough DHS cough cough). The question is rarely how much government, but government for whom.
As President, I’m committed to making Washington work better, and rebuilding the trust of the people who sent us here. I believe most of you are, too. Last month, thanks to the work of Democrats and Republicans, this Congress finally produced a budget that undoes some of last year’s severe cuts to priorities like education. Nobody got everything they wanted, and we can still do more to invest in this country’s future while bringing down our deficit in a balanced way. But the budget compromise should leave us freer to focus on creating new jobs, not creating new crises.His language implies that the deal itself was balanced. No tax increases on the rich and cuts for federal workers is balanced? Also, let us not forget that the budget abandoned the long-term unemployed.
In the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together. Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want – for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations. And what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all – the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead.Let me highlight a favorite quote of mine on the weakness of the dominant concept of "equality of opportunity." It comes from a 1924 speech by Felix Adler called "The Opening of New Horizons in the Future of Mankind."
"What we in America understand by equality is equality of opportunity. We have not even got that, but that is the American ideal—equality of opportunity. We have not got it because there is no such thing as equal opportunity for our children as long as the economic situation of the parents is so desperately unequal…It means equal opportunity for the unequal to show their inequality…And there are a great many Americans who are infatuated with the belief that that state of society would be most satisfying in which artificial privilege was abolished, in which all the differences of talent, or gift, or energy etc. should have free play…so long as it is my ability, that is, my natural privilege, gives me the advantage of you…And it is not even true that the naturally privileged, that those who are finely privileged come to the top, it is rather those whose elbows are sharp and those whose shoes are shod with iron."
Let’s face it: that belief has suffered some serious blows. Over more than three decades, even before the Great Recession hit, massive shifts in technology and global competition had eliminated a lot of good, middle-class jobs, and weakened the economic foundations that families depend on.I would like to turn you to an excellent article by Anat Shenker-Osorio on how Obama evades the question of political responsibility when talking about inequality. Obama speaks about the Great Recession, shifts in technology, and "global competition" as though these were phenomena divorced from policy. As economist Dean Baker frequently points out, inequality is a policy choice. Trade deals, technological subsidies and incentives, and financial deregulation--among many other policies--affect these trends. If you aren't willing to identify the problem correctly, your solutions will not be sufficient.
Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by – let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.That's his record. Again, he doesn't seem to acknowledge that he's been president that whole time. Yes, the Republican House has not been friendly to some of his better policies, but the president began pushing for austerity early in his first term, when the Democrats still held both houses of Congress.
Our job is to reverse these trends. It won’t happen right away, and we won’t agree on everything. But what I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class.The problem with a "ladder" is that some people presumably will stay at the bottom. What you need is not a ladder, where people's burdens (student loan debt, health care debt, etc.) can weigh them down, but an elevator that lifts people up a level and leaves no one behind.
Some require Congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still – and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.I hope he does take good steps. But he also needs to stop undoing with his left hand what he does with his right. See, for example, the prior article about the job-destroying trade policies he is advocating. See also the details of the bipartisan farm bill that Obama will likely approve, $8.7 billion in cuts to SNAP and all.
As usual, our First Lady sets a good example. Michelle’s Let’s Move partnership with schools, businesses, and local leaders has helped bring down childhood obesity rates for the first time in thirty years – an achievement that will improve lives and reduce health care costs for decades to come.She has, though, backed down from nutrition advocacy in the face of corporate opposition. And she did lobby Democrats to cut SNAP to provide funds for a school nutrition program.
The Joining Forces alliance that Michelle and Jill Biden launched has already encouraged employers to hire or train nearly 400,000 veterans and military spouses.The AFL-CIO has been very critical of this effort because much of it is mere PR for ruthless corporations like Walmart.
Taking a page from that playbook, the White House just organized a College Opportunity Summit where already, 150 universities, businesses, and nonprofits have made concrete commitments to reduce inequality in access to higher education – and help every hardworking kid go to college and succeed when they get to campus.I'm going to guess that he didn't urge the university presidents to lower their exorbitant salaries, one of many thing driving up tuition costs.
He could also support far better student loan policies than that which he brokered last summer.
Across the country, we’re partnering with mayors, governors, and state legislatures on issues from homelessness to marriage equality.How do you partner with a mayor on marriage, governor, or legislature on marriage equality?
The point is, there are millions of Americans outside Washington who are tired of stale political arguments, and are moving this country forward. They believe, and I believe, that here in America, our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams. That’s what drew our forebears here. It’s how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America’s largest automaker; how the son of a barkeeper is Speaker of the House; how the son of a single mom can be President of the greatest nation on Earth.Obama pushes the American myth of meritocracy, highlighting select examples that in no way prove a point especially given stagnant mobility. Moreover, let me repeat an earlier quote on the fallacy of meritocracy: "And it is not even true that the naturally privileged, that those who are finely privileged come to the top, it is rather those whose elbows are sharp and those whose shoes are shod with iron." I'm sorry, but Jamie Dimon didn't get a 74% raise because of how much he dreamed.
Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.If it is “who we are,” why does the promise need restoring? Doesn’t that mean it is “who we were”?
We know where to start: the best measure of opportunity is access to a good job. With the economy picking up speed, companies say they intend to hire more people this year. And over half of big manufacturers say they’re thinking of insourcing jobs from abroad.Those companies have been experiencing record profits but have been hoarding cash.
See also, of course, the impact of the TPP on outsourcing jobs. Insofar as the insourcing statement is matched with policies, the trade deals are just another example of undoing with your left hand what you do with your right.
So let’s make that decision easier for more companies. Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that our tax code is riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here, and reward companies that keep profits abroad. Let’s flip that equation. Let’s work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs here at home.Our tax code is riddled with perverse incentives, and they should be eliminated (despite the utter lack of political will shown by the perpetual inaction here). However, corporate tax rates are not high and need not be lowered, especially given how many companies avoid paying any taxes at all.
Also, of course, see the prior linked Economic Policy Institute report on outsourcing and the TPP.
Moreover, we can take the money we save with this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes – because in today’s global economy, first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure.Congress is going to pass "tax reform" that nets money? Given corporations' skill at buying Congress and evading taxes, let's just say I'm skeptical.
Has he started believing in dynamic scoring, also known as magic?
We’ll need Congress to protect more than three million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer. But I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible.“Slash bureaucracy” and “streamline the permitting process” always end up meaning "weaken the EPA."
We also have the chance, right now, to beat other countries in the race for the next wave of high-tech manufacturing jobs. My administration has launched two hubs for high-tech manufacturing in Raleigh and Youngstown, where we’ve connected businesses to research universities that can help America lead the world in advanced technologies. Tonight, I’m announcing we’ll launch six more this year. Bipartisan bills in both houses could double the number of these hubs and the jobs they create. So get those bills to my desk and put more Americans back to work.What purposes will this technology serve? Technology can serve both good (solar energy) and evil (drones) ends.
Let’s do more to help the entrepreneurs and small business owners who create most new jobs in America. Over the past five years, my administration has made more loans to small business owners than any other. And when ninety-eight percent of our exporters are small businesses, new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help them create more jobs. We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped “Made in the USA.” China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines. Neither should we.I encourage you to look at Public Citizen's resources on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade Authority (TAFTA)/Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Needless to say, these deals will neither be protecting our workers nor our environment.
We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow. This is an edge America cannot surrender. Federally-funded research helped lead to the ideas and inventions behind Google and smartphones.Which the NSA loves!
That’s why Congress should undo the damage done by last year’s cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery – whether it’s vaccines that stay ahead of drug-resistant bacteria, or paper-thin material that’s stronger than steel. And let’s pass a patent reform bill that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly, needless litigation.I'll turn your attention to the recent patent reform legislation passed by the House.
Now, one of the biggest factors in bringing more jobs back is our commitment to American energy. The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades.We’re doomed.
One of the reasons why is natural gas – if extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change. Businesses plan to invest almost $100 billion in new factories that use natural gas. I’ll cut red tape to help states get those factories built, and this Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas. My administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities.Natural gas is not a bridge fuel. Increasing natural gas production and strengthening environmental protection are not harmonious goals, sorry.
And while we’re at it, I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.I hope he does. I just wrote this weekend about how abysmal his record has been here thus far, even compared to that of Bush.
It’s not just oil and natural gas production that’s booming; we’re becoming a global leader in solar, too. Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar; every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced. Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.I unequivocally support this.
And even as we’ve increased energy production, we’ve partnered with businesses, builders, and local communities to reduce the energy we consume. When we rescued our automakers, for example, we worked with them to set higher fuel efficiency standards for our cars. In the coming months, I’ll build on that success by setting new standards for our trucks, so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump.Increased efficiency standards are good although there's a lot of natural gas boosterism in the language in the complementary White House fact sheet.
Taken together, our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet. Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.The US is the world's second largest polluter, and carbon pollution actually increased in 2013.
But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air. The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.If he's still calling for more oil and gas--and the chimera of "clean coal" (mentioned in the fact sheet), he won't be able to say yes.
Finally, if we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement – and fix our broken immigration system. Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted. I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone. So let’s get immigration reform done this year.The Senate immigration bill creates significant hurdles to citizenship and militarizes the border.
The ideas I’ve outlined so far can speed up growth and create more jobs. But in this rapidly-changing economy, we have to make sure that every American has the skills to fill those jobs.The skills gap is a myth.
There has been persistent unemployment in STEM-related occupations.
The good news is, we know how to do it. Two years ago, as the auto industry came roaring back, Andra Rush opened up a manufacturing firm in Detroit. She knew that Ford needed parts for the best-selling truck in America, and she knew how to make them. She just needed the workforce. So she dialed up what we call an American Job Center – places where folks can walk in to get the help or training they need to find a new job, or better job. She was flooded with new workers. And today, Detroit Manufacturing Systems has more than 700 employees.This seems decent so far as it goes (and depending on whether the jobs are "good" jobs); however, it is not focusing on the source of the problem.
What Andra and her employees experienced is how it should be for every employer – and every job seeker. So tonight, I’ve asked Vice President Biden to lead an across-the-board reform of America’s training programs to make sure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now. That means more on-the-job training, and more apprenticeships that set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life. It means connecting companies to community colleges that can help design training to fill their specific needs. And if Congress wants to help, you can concentrate funding on proven programs that connect more ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs.
Moreover, colleges should not exist solely for the sake of helping companies. Education should serve the cause of democratic citizenship and human development.
I’m also convinced we can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy. But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people.He could have threatened to veto any budget that failed to include this extension. He chose not to.
And what does he mean by "reform" UI?
Let me tell you why.
Misty DeMars is a mother of two young boys. She’d been steadily employed since she was a teenager. She put herself through college. She’d never collected unemployment benefits. In May, she and her husband used their life savings to buy their first home. A week later, budget cuts claimed the job she loved. Last month, when their unemployment insurance was cut off, she sat down and wrote me a letter – the kind I get every day. “We are the face of the unemployment crisis,” she wrote. “I am not dependent on the government…Our country depends on people like us who build careers, contribute to society…care about our neighbors…I am confident that in time I will find a job…I will pay my taxes, and we will raise our children in their own home in the community we love. Please give us this chance.” Congress, give these hardworking, responsible Americans that chance.
They need our help, but more important, this country needs them in the game.
I'm uncomfortable with framing the economy as a "game" (in which the presumed goal is getting ever more money). The anecdote is fine, but it's not going to lead to any changes-of-heart.
That’s why I’ve been asking CEOs to give more long-term unemployed workers a fair shot at that new job and new chance to support their families; this week, many will come to the White House to make that commitment real. Tonight, I ask every business leader in America to join us and to do the same – because we are stronger when America fields a full team.The same CEOs who are funding the Republicans who are opposed to extending UI and who have been giving themselves record profits? Mere words will not change this. A job guarantee could, but that's anathema to the donor class.
Of course, it’s not enough to train today’s workforce. We also have to prepare tomorrow’s workforce, by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education.On Race to the Top, let me turn you to anything written by education historian Diane Ravitch.
Estiven Rodriguez couldn’t speak a word of English when he moved to New York City at age nine. But last month, thanks to the support of great teachers and an innovative tutoring program, he led a march of his classmates – through a crowd of cheering parents and neighbors – from their high school to the post office, where they mailed off their college applications. And this son of a factory worker just found out he’s going to college this fall. Five years ago, we set out to change the odds for all our kids. We worked with lenders to reform student loans, and today, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before. Race to the Top, with the help of governors from both parties, has helped states raise expectations and performance. Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy – problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, and math. Some of this change is hard. It requires everything from more challenging curriculums and more demanding parents to better support for teachers and new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test. But it’s worth it – and it’s working.
On a basic level, though, competition for funds--which is essential to the RTT design--is antithetical to democracy.
The problem is we’re still not reaching enough kids, and we’re not reaching them in time. That has to change. Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education. Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every four year-old. As a parent as well as a President, I repeat that request tonight. But in the meantime, thirty states have raised pre-k funding on their own. They know we can’t wait. So just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year, we’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children. And as Congress decides what it’s going to do, I’m going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need.My main concern with the pre-K push is that it will reflect the unequal funding that characterizes the public school system at large.
Also, why should business leaders be involved in pre-K?
Last year, I also pledged to connect 99 percent of our students to high-speed broadband over the next four years. Tonight, I can announce that with the support of the FCC and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon, we’ve got a down payment to start connecting more than 15,000 schools and twenty million students over the next two years, without adding a dime to the deficit.My main concern here would be how the bidding process works.
We’re working to redesign high schools and partner them with colleges and employers that offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career.The purpose of public education is preparation for democratic citizenship. We should not forget that.
We’re shaking up our system of higher education to give parents more information, and colleges more incentives to offer better value, so that no middle-class kid is priced out of a college education.See my earlier link on the toxic student loan deal the president brokered last summer.
We’re offering millions the opportunity to cap their monthly student loan payments to ten percent of their income, and I want to work with Congress to see how we can help even more Americans who feel trapped by student loan debt.
And I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.Corporations?
The bottom line is, Michelle and I want every child to have the same chance this country gave us. But we know our opportunity agenda won’t be complete – and too many young people entering the workforce today will see the American Dream as an empty promise – unless we do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off for every single American. Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode. This year, let’s all come together – Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street – to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds.The complementary fact sheet emphasizes the president's commitment to passing the Paycheck Fairness Act. The fact sheet is less specific on the rest of the language here. Would Obama push for legislation like Kirsten Gillibrand's FAMILY Act? His statement implies so.
Now, women hold a majority of lower-wage jobs – but they’re not the only ones stifled by stagnant wages. Americans understand that some people will earn more than others, and we don’t resent those who, by virtue of their efforts, achieve incredible success.Those who achieve "incredible success" do not deserve credit if they are trampling on others on the way to the top, and that is all too often the case.
But Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.No one should have to raise a family in poverty.
In the year since I asked this Congress to raise the minimum wage, five states have passed laws to raise theirs. Many businesses have done it on their own. Nick Chute is here tonight with his boss, John Soranno. John’s an owner of Punch Pizza in Minneapolis, and Nick helps make the dough. Only now he makes more of it: John just gave his employees a raise, to ten bucks an hour – a decision that eased their financial stress and boosted their morale. Tonight, I ask more of America’s business leaders to follow John’s lead and do what you can to raise your employees’ wages. To every mayor, governor, and state legislator in America, I say, you don’t have to wait for Congress to act; Americans will support you if you take this on. And as a chief executive, I intend to lead by example. Profitable corporations like Costco see higher wages as the smart way to boost productivity and reduce turnover. We should too. In the coming weeks, I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour – because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty. Of course, to reach millions more, Congress needs to get on board. Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about twenty percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here. Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10. This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend. It doesn’t involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise.The minimum wage push will go nowhere in the House, but it's still a good effort.
Note that Congress has not raised the minimum wage since 2007. The only increase in the minimum wage in Obama's presidency thus far was the 2009 step of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, a bill signed by Bush.
$10.10 is a significant improvement from the status quo. Let us not forget, however, that the minimum wage would be $22 if it kept up with productivity.
And our goal should be to make the minimum wage a living wage. $10.10 is better, but it is still not a living wage.
Also, the contracting order is a positive step, but it only covers new contracts, unfortunately.
There are other steps we can take to help families make ends meet, and few are more effective at reducing inequality and helping families pull themselves up through hard work than the Earned Income Tax Credit. Right now, it helps about half of all parents at some point. But I agree with Republicans like Senator Rubio that it doesn’t do enough for single workers who don’t have kids. So let’s work together to strengthen the credit, reward work, and help more Americans get ahead.This is fine so far as it goes.
Let’s do more to help Americans save for retirement. Today, most workers don’t have a pension. A Social Security check often isn’t enough on its own. And while the stock market has doubled over the last five years, that doesn’t help folks who don’t have 401ks. That’s why, tomorrow, I will direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: MyRA. It’s a new savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest egg. MyRA guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in. And if this Congress wants to help, work with me to fix an upside-down tax code that gives big tax breaks to help the wealthy save, but does little to nothing for middle-class Americans. Offer every American access to an automatic IRA on the job, so they can save at work just like everyone in this chamber can. And since the most important investment many families make is their home, send me legislation that protects taxpayers from footing the bill for a housing crisis ever again, and keeps the dream of homeownership alive for future generations of Americans.This is fine so far as it goes (at least as far as I know now). However, a better strategy would be to rescind any past calls for chained CPI or other benefit cuts and push for the expansion of Social Security, our time-tested retirement program.
One last point on financial security. For decades, few things exposed hard-working families to economic hardship more than a broken health care system. And in case you haven’t heard, we’re in the process of fixing that. A pre-existing condition used to mean that someone like Amanda Shelley, a physician assistant and single mom from Arizona, couldn’t get health insurance. But on January 1st, she got covered. On January 3rd, she felt a sharp pain. On January 6th, she had emergency surgery. Just one week earlier, Amanda said, that surgery would’ve meant bankruptcy. That’s what health insurance reform is all about – the peace of mind that if misfortune strikes, you don’t have to lose everything. Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, more than three million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents’ plans. More than nine million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage. And here’s another number: zero. Because of this law, no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, back pain, or cancer. No woman can ever be charged more just because she’s a woman. And we did all this while adding years to Medicare’s finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat, and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors. Now, I don’t expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law. But I know that the American people aren’t interested in refighting old battles. So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, and increase choice – tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up. But let’s not have another forty-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda. The first forty were plenty. We got it. We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against. And if you want to know the real impact this law is having, just talk to Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky, who’s here tonight. Kentucky’s not the most liberal part of the country, but he’s like a man possessed when it comes to covering his commonwealth’s families. “They are our friends and neighbors,” he said. “They are people we shop and go to church with…farmers out on the tractors…grocery clerks…they are people who go to work every morning praying they don’t get sick. No one deserves to live that way.” Steve’s right.
There's no new policy here. PPACA is, in many ways, an improvement on status quo ante, but it made too many concessions to the for-profit system. It will also only do little to tackle medical debt. I would like to see more Democrats joining colleagues such as Jim McDermott and Alan Grayson in pushing for a more progressive system.
That’s why, tonight, I ask every American who knows someone without health insurance to help them get covered by March 31st.My president, the insurance salesman.
Moms, get on your kids to sign up. Kids, call your mom and walk her through the application. It will give her some peace of mind – plus, she’ll appreciate hearing from you. After all, that’s the spirit that has always moved this nation forward. It’s the spirit of citizenship – the recognition that through hard work and responsibility, we can pursue our individual dreams, but still come together as one American family to make sure the next generation can pursue its dreams as well.Wow, that was a weird transition. How does helping your mom get through healthcare.gov have to do with pursuing individual dreams through hard work and responsibility? And citizenship is about participating in the public square, not purchasing market goods.
Citizenship means standing up for everyone’s right to vote. Last year, part of the Voting Rights Act was weakened. But conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats are working together to strengthen it; and the bipartisan commission I appointed last year has offered reforms so that no one has to wait more than a half hour to vote. Let’s support these efforts.The results of the bipartisan election commission were good so far as they go. Whether they have a chance in a hostile Congress is another story.
It should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank account, that drives our democracy.I love irony.
Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day. I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say “we are not afraid,” and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook. Citizenship demands a sense of common cause; participation in the hard work of self-government; an obligation to serve to our communities.This is good so far as it goes. There's nothing in the complementary fact sheet about new steps, though.
And I know this chamber agrees that few Americans give more to their country than our diplomats and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. Tonight, because of the extraordinary troops and civilians who risk and lay down their lives to keep us free, the United States is more secure.The countries Obama has been attacking (Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan) were never direct threats to the US.
The US has 1,180 foreign military bases.
When I took office, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, all our troops are out of Iraq.Obama likes to take credit for the withdrawal; however, he intended to extend the US presence but was rebuffed by Iraqi officials' refusal to grant immunity to US troops.
More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan. With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over.Is it really over then?
After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future. If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces, and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al Qaeda.
Obama wants to extend the US military presence in Afghanistan for at least ten more years.
For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country. The fact is, that danger remains.Americans are as likely to be killed by their own furniture as they are by terrorism.
While we have put al Qaeda’s core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved, as al Qaeda affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world. In Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable these networks.And kill countless civilians and multiple wedding parties.
In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks.In case you didn't notice, Congress just secretly approved more military aid for the Syrian rebels.
Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses, and combat new threats like cyberattacks.I would turn your attention to anything written by Marcy Wheeler on this point.
And as we reform our defense budget, we have to keep faith with our men and women in uniform, and invest in the capabilities they need to succeed in future missions.What does he mean by "reform"?
We have to remain vigilant. But I strongly believe our leadership and our security cannot depend on our military alone. As Commander-in-Chief, I have used force when needed to protect the American people, and I will never hesitate to do so as long as I hold this office.
But I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it’s truly necessary; nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts.
The US homeland has not been attacked by another country since World War II.
We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us – large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism. So, even as we aggressively pursue terrorist networks – through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners – America must move off a permanent war footing. That’s why I’ve imposed prudent limits on the use of drones – for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence.The number of drone strikes in Pakistan has gone down since Obama's speech last year; however, the drone program remains under CIA control and, thus, still lacks any semblance of transparency. The US also continues to refuse to acknowledge its civilians death toll.
Personally, the only "prudent" limit on the us of drones is a full ban.
A few months ago, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence rejected an attempt by Jan Schakowsky to rein in drone strikes. Even a majority of Democrats on the committee voted against it. If Obama had been supportive, I doubt that would have been the case.
That’s why, working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs – because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated.Obama's Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board wants to end the dragnet. Obama does not. He thought that the PCLOB's recommendations were too liberal".
And with the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay – because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world.Obama's policy has never been to end the practice of indefinite detention but simply to create a Gitmo North.
You see, in a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power – including strong and principled diplomacy. American diplomacy has rallied more than fifty countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles.The US is spending more money on nukes than it did during the Cold War.
The US also always conveniently ignores Israel's nukes.
American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated, and we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve – a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear.Obama only didn't bomb Syria because he didn't have the votes. Remember how shameless that whole spectacle was back in September?
As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the State of Israel – a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side.How is the US an honest broker if the US says that it will "always be at the side" of one of the two parties? The US functions as Israel's lawyer, but the Palestinians are left without an advocate.
Bibi has no intention of recognizing the sovereignty of a Palestinian state, and the US has allowed Israel to keep building settlements across the Green Line with impunity. The gravy train of military aid never stops.
Also, would John Kerry demand that other countries recognize the US as a white or Christian nation?
And it is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program – and rolled parts of that program back – for the very first time in a decade. As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium. It is not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify, every day, that Iran is not building a bomb. And with our allies and partners, we’re engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. These negotiations will be difficult. They may not succeed. We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and the mistrust between our nations cannot be wished away. But these negotiations do not rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today. The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible.I'm glad to see that the administration has been using diplomacy here and has rejected the recent efforts of Congress to derail such efforts. But we shouldn't forget that US policy has been to create a humanitarian crisis in Iran.
But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it. For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed. If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon. But if Iran’s leaders do seize the chance, then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war.
Finally, let’s remember that our leadership is defined not just by our defense against threats, but by the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe – to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, to free people from fear and want. And no one is better positioned to take advantage of those opportunities than America.I love irony.
Our alliance with Europe remains the strongest the world has ever known.The US is even adding military bases there!
From Tunisia to Burma, we’re supporting those who are willing to do the hard work of building democracy.Remember when John Kerry said that Egypt was on the right path?
And don't forget about US policy in Bahrain.
In Ukraine, we stand for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully, and have a say in their country’s future.
Across Africa, we’re bringing together businesses and governments to double access to electricity and help end extreme poverty.The US military presence there is also rapidly expanding.
Obama has also been doing Big Ag's bidding in Africa.
In the Americas, we are building new ties of commerce, but we’re also expanding cultural and educational exchanges among young people.The US backed a military coup in Honduras in 2009 and still supports it because of the alignment of interests with US corporations.
The US pushed to lower the minimum wage in Haiti.
US money goes to human rights abuses in Colombia.
More broadly, I would turn your attention to the WikiLeaks revelations about US corruption and criminality in Latin America.
And we will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific, where we support our allies, shape a future of greater security and prosperity, and extend a hand to those devastated by disaster – as we did in the Philippines, when our Marines and civilians rushed to aid those battered by a typhoon, and were greeted with words like, “We will never forget your kindness” and “God bless America!” We do these things because they help promote our long-term security.Obama has been pushing for a increased US military presence in the Philippines.
I also can't help thinking of Tom Lehrer's Send the Marines.
Politicians have a bad habit of saying "security" when they really mean "hegemony."
And we do them because we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation.The "we" in "we" believe is simply not true. Not everyone in the country, unfortunately, believes that. And it is not reflected in US policy, either at home or abroad. One of the government's most obvious violations of this belief in universal dignity and equality is the post-9/11 profiling of Arabs and Muslims. There's also the racially discriminatory drug war. Abroad, the administration's targeted killing (drone) policy belies this claim as well.
And next week, the world will see one expression of that commitment – when Team USA marches the red, white, and blue into the Olympic Stadium – and brings home the gold.Ra-ra national pride
My fellow Americans, no other country in the world does what we do. On every issue, the world turns to us, not simply because of the size of our economy or our military might – but because of the ideals we stand for, and the burdens we bear to advance them.I just can’t.....
No one knows this better than those who serve in uniform. As this time of war draws to a close, a new generation of heroes returns to civilian life. We’ll keep slashing that backlog so our veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned, and our wounded warriors receive the health care – including the mental health care – that they need. We’ll keep working to help all our veterans translate their skills and leadership into jobs here at home.The VA backlog has been quite bad, but it has been getting better. And the military suicide rate passed combat deaths in 2012.
One of the best things that Obama could do for war veterans is not create them.
And we all continue to join forces to honor and support our remarkable military families. Let me tell you about one of those families I’ve come to know. I first met Cory Remsburg, a proud Army Ranger, at Omaha Beach on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Along with some of his fellow Rangers, he walked me through the program – a strong, impressive young man, with an easy manner, sharp as a tack. We joked around, and took pictures, and I told him to stay in touch. A few months later, on his tenth deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain. For months, he lay in a coma. The next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn’t speak; he could barely move. Over the years, he’s endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, and hours of grueling rehab every day. Even now, Cory is still blind in one eye. He still struggles on his left side. But slowly, steadily, with the support of caregivers like his dad Craig, and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he’s learned to speak again and stand again and walk again – and he’s working toward the day when he can serve his country again. “My recovery has not been easy,” he says. “Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy.” Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit. My fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged.Two-thirds of US casualties in Afghanistan have occurred since Obama's surge began.
But for more than two hundred years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress – to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice, and fairness, and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen. The America we want for our kids – a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us – none of it is easy. But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow – I know it’s within our reach. Believe it.Boilerplate liberal Americana, always belied by reality (including the policies of this administration, as many of my links have shown).
God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.Apparently, this trope began with Nixon when he was doing damage control. It feels rather archaic to me.
Lest you get any impression that the days of austerity are over, I'd like to highlight this part of the White House SOTU fact sheet:
Investing in Growth While Continuing to Strengthen Our Nation’s Long Term Fiscal Position. Over the past four years the deficit has been cut in half as a share of the economy, falling by 5.7% of GDP, the largest four-year deficit reduction since the demobilization from World War II. The long-run deficit outlook has also improved considerably due to slowing the growth of Medicare while improving solvency and benefits in the Affordable Care Act, a fairer tax code enacted in the 2012 fiscal cliff deal, and discretionary spending which is on track to be the lowest as a share of the economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President. The recent bipartisan Budget agreement undoes some of last year’s damaging cuts to priorities like education and research, and clears the way for Washington to avoid setting back our economy this year with manufactured fiscal crises. The President wants to build on this progress with a growth and opportunity agenda that includes a commitment to strengthening our long-term fiscal position. This entails a commitment by the President to not only pay for all of his new, ongoing initiatives but also to support additional deficit reduction in a balanced manner from pro-growth tax reform that levels the playing field for the middle class and further efforts to reform and strengthen entitlements. This approach will accelerate growth and ensure that the debt is on a downward path as a share of the economy over the next decade and the debt and deficit are stabilized over the longer term.Obama is praising historically low levels of discretionary spending, endorsing the misguided policy of PAYGO, and is continuing to endorse cutting Social Security and Medicare. The White House and party elites often say that their cuts would strengthen the programs, evidence be damned.