Speaking before a jam-packed congressional chamber and millions glued to the tube, President Obama boldly declared in his State of the Union address Tuesday night to use his leadership toward producing an economy “built to last.” His “blueprint” calls for, among other initiatives, a high-tech reboot of the nation’s manufacturing sector, tax code changes to reward firms that “would bring jobs back to your country” and a series of policies promoting financial equity for middle class and poor Americans.
In the speech, Obama took aim at financial institutions engaged in abusive lending practices and corporations and wealthy individuals not paying their fair share of taxes, focusing on “fairness…the defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive… We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do very well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or, we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot.”
In the Republican rebuttal delivered by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels he characterized the Obama Administration as “a divisive failure that has chosen class warfare and stifling big government over economic progress.” Even before the address, other GOP opponents—from House Speaker John Boehner to presidential contender Mitt Romney—jumped on this class warfare bandwagon. The president counterd: “You can call this class warfare all you want. Most Americans would call that common sense.”
Watching from the press gallery, I was struck by the diffrence in Obama’s tenor from last year’s lofty “plan to win the future.” Though upbeat, his remarks melded forceful urgency, industrial innovation and economic populism. It also offered some clues on how he will frame his re-election campaign going forward, highlightinmg myriad economic achievements—rescuing the nation from another Great Depression, providing pay equity for women, resurrecting the auto industry (“Today, General Motors is back on top as the world’s No. 1 automaker…”), to name just three—and touching on foreign policy accomplishments—taking out Osama bin Laden, ending the Iraq War—while making the argument that future prospects under a second term of Obama will prove far better than the GOP alternative.
The president prefers across-the-aisle collaboration to open warfare. But expect him to display more steel when it comes to dealing with the type of politcal antics that almost shut down the government last year and threatened to wreck the recovery. He asserted: “As long as I’m President, I will work with anyone in this chamber to build on this momentum. But I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place.”
So it’s clear he’ll continue to deploy his six-month-old “We can’t wait” strategy—a combination of using the presidential bully pulpit to pressure Congress to pass his legislative agenda as well as implementing select initiatives through executive action and enforcement powers.
In his remarks, he prodded congressional Republicans to stop “a tax hike on 160 million working Americans while the recovery is still fragile… Let’s agree right here, right now: No side issues. No drama. Pass the payroll tax cut without delay.” Currently, the deal cut between Democrats and Republicans for a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday in late December is set to expire shortly. And he also asked Congress to present him with tax reform legislation for companies that create domestic jobs as well as bills that bolster small business development and energy innovation. As for housing , “I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible homeowner a chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortagage by refinancing at historically low interest rates.” And once again he proposed additional changes to the tax code—the so-called Buffett rule named after Warren Buffet, the second richest man in America—in which those earning more than $1 million a year would pay a minimum income tax rate of at least 30%. The GOP continues to reject the measure.
In terms of applying executive privilege, Obama said he will ask Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. to create a special division using federal prosecutors and state attorneys to investigate abusive lending. The president would also develop a beefed-up trade enforcement unit to pursue unfair practices employed by foreign countries—most notably China. Moreover, he plans to sign an Executive Order next week “clearing away the red tape that slows down too many construction projects” but readily admitted Congress has to authorize funding Obama did install his Consumer Finance Protection Bureau Chief through a recess appointment, however.
In talking with political observers today, one area that he failed to address with policy initiatives, however, is the alarming rate of poverty.
Despite the inevitable dogfights, Obama stated that Washington politicans will continue to get a black eye from the public if they don’t “learn from the service of our troops.” He opened and closed his address with references to the selflessness and honor displayed by our young men and women in uniform, and specifically pointed to the Navy SEAL team that killed Bin laden by placing mission above individual differences.
Bridging that politial chasm, he stated, would result in a a nation that is truly built to last.