Did I miss something? Or was the State of the Union Address delivered by President Obama last night unusually pedestrian, packed to the gills with clichés, promises, gimmicks, and endless talk of partnerships, goals, challenges, and commissions for which Washington is famous?
The only stirring moment came when Obama introduced the people he’d invited to sit in the gallery. They included the parents of a 15-year-old who marched in the inaugural parade and was shot to death a week later, a brave policeman from Wisconsin, a caring nurse, and a 102-year-old woman who waited hours to vote last November. They were fresh and inspiring and seemed glad to be there.
In contrast, House speaker John Boehner had a weary look on his face as he sat through the speech, as if he’d heard it all from Obama before. And indeed he has. Next to him, Vice President Biden was not jocular Joe. The pair of them did not appear overjoyed to be there.
Obama, though, was on-message, just as he was in his inaugural address three weeks ago. He wants to spend more. He wants the government to do more (except overseas). And he isn’t much worried about the possibility of a debt crisis. He leaves it to Republicans to worry about things like the debt-to-GDP ratio.
But he was anxious about the mandatory spending cuts, known as the sequester, which will go into effect March 1 if nothing is done to replace or delay them. And on this, Obama was his usual clever self. He blamed Congress—that’s code for Republicans—for this “really bad idea.” He called it a “manufactured crisis.”
But the idea came from the Obama White House and he signed it into law in August. After Republicans passed an alternative, he insisted he’d veto any measure to change the sequester.
That was last year. Now he’s upset it may go into effect, reduce spending, and hurt the economy. He’s also mad that it’s produced another episode of brinksmanship, like the fiscal cliff. But if anyone is responsible for the fast approaching deadline, it’s Obama. He and Senate Democrats did nothing to annul or alter the sequester in 2012, and even now, Obama hasn’t offered a specific alternative, except to say it must include a tax increase.
But Republicans won’t swallow another tax hike. If they did, it would only worsen the current civil war between the Washington Republicans and those outside the Beltway. Obama wouldn’t mind that.
For all the spending he proposed, Obama maintained that none of it would cause the deficit to rise. Maybe so. But it sure won’t cause the deficit to shrink either. The Congressional Budget Office projects a decade of big deficits from 2013, increasing the national debt by $7 trillion. Obama didn’t mention this.
As his aides had promised, Obama did “pivot” to the issues of economic growth and jobs. Yes, he has a plan to “reignite” the engine of a booming economy. Since it’s an Obama plan, it emphasizes what government can do far more than what the private sector can.
Part of the plan is to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour, that would then index to increases in the cost of living – that is, making the country less competitive. His administration will host a Select USA Investment Summit “to attract jobs and investment to our shores.” He would pump more money into clean energy despite the whopping failure of green subsidies in his first term. He even lists renewal of the Violence Against Women as an economy booster.
My guess is the Obama economic plan has little or no chance of working. But maybe I missed something.