In the wake of the Tucson shooting, Republicans and Democrats sat intermixed at President Obama’s State of the Union address early last week. This new yet very temporary seating arrangement symbolized both parties’ willingness to move forward and face our nation’s biggest issues together.
In what was arguably the most important State of the Union address of his presidency, Obama organized his speech by laying out a plan towards “winning the future.” Under this theme, he addressed issues including jobs, education, renewable energy and the deficit.
With the unemployment rate hovering around 9.4 percent, American jobs were at the forefront of Obama’s message. He called on Americans to “out innovate, out educate and out-build the rest of the world.” Obama boasted that the U.S. still grants the most patents out of any nation in the world and how the stock market has come “roaring back” since the 2008 financial crisis.
For education, Obama urged policymakers to replace Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” with his own reform plan “Race to the Top.” He argued his reform policy raises the standards of nearly 40 states in the reading categories. In continuing an emphasis on education, Obama stated, “in order to compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American.” He then advised Congress to make permanent the tuition tax credit, which is worth $10,000 for four years of college.
With China and India emerging as new global powers, the President called for greater investments in math and science education for students starting at a younger age. In what he has famously deemed our “Sputnik Moment”, Obama called on America to step up and prove to the world once again that we are still the leading nation in innovation and industry. He pointed towards advances in renewable energy and biofuels as ways America can re-establish itself into the new global economy.
While his message was uplifting, Obama’s speech was vague to say the least. On our nation’s biggest issue, the President fell short in suggesting any credible solution to our ever-growing, ever-mounting cloud of unsustainable debt.
On March 4th, our federal government will officially run out of money. Just a few short weeks after that, we can expect our federal debt to finally hit the ceiling unless Congress passes a bill raising that ceiling.
The only specific suggestions the President made towards cutting the deficit included reforming corporate tax, increasing some taxes on the rich, and extending a freeze in certain categories of discretionary spending. The President also vowed to veto any bill sent to his desk with earmarks (spending tagged onto legislation directed towards specific projects). While these ideas are nice, they hardly account for the budget deficit that runs nearly 10% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Looking at his speech from a realistic standpoint, the money Obama is hoping to invest in innovation simply will not happen without increasing spending; the very thing both the President and House Republicans have pledged to cut.
As Obama closed his speech, “our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong,” many Americans were left questioning just that.