Although woe betide anyone who cuts off the St. Crispin’s Day speech:
I’m seeing some controversy among folks I respect about the fact that the health care section of the speech didn’t get hyper-specific. Didn’t talk about the details of which houses of congress need to do what.
I think he made the right call. The speech is a speech to the American people, especially to people who follow politics pretty casually, and regular people don’t want to hear about congressional process. The reality is that this is going to have to be worked out behind the scenes, behind the dread closed doors. But one of the main points of the speech was to get the focus on Obama and Obama’s themes and off closed door dealmaking. So he emphasized the need for action and correctly situated the call for health reform in a broader context of economics reform.
I think Bob McDonnell gave arguably the best SOTU response I’ve ever seen—the choice to go with an audience is a big win. It still wasn’t a good speech, per se, but it didn’t suck. And that’s a triumph.
As for Obama, I thought it was just great. A reminder that Obama is fantastic at delivering formal speeches and has a fantastic speechwriting stuff. The past twelve months are a reminder that giving fantastic setpiece speeches has limits as a political strategy. You drop out of speech mode into the realm of cold, hard vote-counting and I don’t think anything’s really changed in that regard.
MSNBC host Chris Matthews praised President Obama after his State of the Union address, saying that he had become “post-racial.” He then said that while watching the speech, he even “forgot he was black”:
MATTHEWS: You know, I was trying to think about who he was tonight, and it’s interesting: He is post-racial by all appearances. You know, I forgot he was black tonight for an hour. You know, he’s gone a long way to become a leader of this country and passed so much history in just a year or two. I mean, it’s something we don’t even think about.
I was watching, I said, Wait a minute, he’s an African-American guy in front of a bunch of other white people. And here he is President of the United States and we’ve completely forgotten that tonight — completely forgotten it. I think it was in the scope of his discussion. It was so broad-ranging, so in tune with so many problems, of aspects, and aspects of American life that you don’t think terms of the old tribalism, the old ethnicity. It was astounding in that regard — a very subtle fact. It’s so hard to even talk about; maybe I shouldn’t talk about it, but I am.
Matthews’ comment seems to imply that a man who is too “black” still can’t become “a leader of this country.”
Matthews cleaned up his remarks later, lauding Obama for “taking us beyond black and white in our politics, wonderfully so, in just a year. … And I’m loving it.”
For those who hoped that President Obama would bring more clarity to how Congress can pass health care reform, the State of the Union address fell far short of expectations. Instead of laying a path to final passage, Obama briefly described the health care bills, urged Republicans to contribute to the process, and simply “asked” (rather than demanded) Congress to “not walk away from reform.”
Gone was his sense of urgency or commitment to passing health care reform before the end of the year. Obama spent just 6% or 5 minutes of his speech on health care (452 out of 7,077 words) and failed to connect health care reform to the economic recovery or job creation. Below is an excerpt:
But I also know this problem is not going away. By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber.
As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed. There’s a reason why many doctors, nurses, and health care experts who know our system best consider this approach a vast improvement over the status quo. But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Here’s what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.
The tone was a marked departure from how Obama described reform just five months ago. Standing in that same spot in September, Obama declared that “the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action….Now is the time to deliver on health care. Now is the time to deliver on health care.” In December, Obama even connected health care reform to the economy. “Those who’ve been accusing me of ignoring the unemployment problem haven’t been paying attention.” “Health care reform will create thousands of jobs.”
Tonight in his State of the Union address, President Obama outlined steps he plans to take “to pay for the $1 trillion that it took to rescue the economy last year.” However, he first addressed right-wing criticisms that he is overseeing out-of-control spending by noting the situation he faced when he took office:
By the time I took office, we had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. All this was before I walked in the door.
The camera then cut to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who leaned over to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and appeared to whisper, “Blame it on Bush.” The two men then laughed. Watch it:
When Obama criticized the Supreme Court’s recent decision rolling back restrictions for corporations to influence political campaigns (“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations– to spend without limit in our elections”), Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito broke protocol by shaking his head. He also appeared to mouth, “Not true.”
,McCain went on Fox News and talked to Sean Hannity after the speech, saying, “What we’re hearing tonight is ‘BIOB’ — let’s call it that from now on. Blame it on Bush. Whatever has gone wrong, let’s blame it on Bush. I think the people of Massachusetts last Tuesday pretty well rejected that line of conversation.”
Obama: “To create more of these clean energy jobs … means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.”
Gov. McDonnell (R-VA) responds by pushing Bush-Cheney-Palin energy plan
This year, I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate. I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy; and I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are [sic] the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.
Getting a bill passed won’t be easy, but Obama is clearly still committed to make it happen.
The President did not soft-pedal his support for climate action and clean energy jobs, as expected. Quite the reverse.
He could have avoided any mention of the science, as I’m sure many of his advisors wanted.
He could have given climate and clean energy a cursory mention, but he went out of his way to repeat the core message again and again and again. Indeed, he used the phrase “clean energy” ten times:
Our guest blogger is Lawrence J. Korb, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress
If President Obama is serious about controlling spending, he can’t exempt the Pentagon. In announcing a three-year spending freeze, he exempted all security-related funding. This exemption applies to the budgets of the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security, foreign aid and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Because the budgets of these agencies, particularly that of the Pentagon, are responsible for a large and increasing share of the discretionary portion of the federal budget, the president’s spending freeze will have a marginal effect.
Rather than exclude these accounts from the freeze for fear of appearing weak on defense, the president should mandate that the baseline defense budget also be frozen.
Indeed, freezing the base defense budget at its current level of about $532 billion would not hinder the Pentagon’s ability to conduct the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq because they will be funded separately through a $160 billion supplemental. Moreover, freezing defense spending would force the Pentagon to make the hard choices it has avoided over the past decade. In the last ten years, the baseline defense budget nearly doubled from $290 billion in FY2000 to $532 billion, an increase of $242 billion or 83 percent, or more than 8 percent a year. Even if one controls for inflation, the real growth amounts to nearly 50 percent, about 5 percent a year in real terms. By way of contrast, non-defense discretionary spending, which the administration proposes to freeze, has averaged only 5 percent annual growth, or 2 percent real growth during that same period.
Additionally, spending on future weapons systems has outpaced spending on our troops. The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has pointed out (pdf) that the operations and support portion of the base defense budget – which includes costs for recruitment, training, military and civilian personnel pay, and operating and maintaining equipment – has increased. Yet it has risen less in real terms than the investment portion of the budget, which includes procurement, research and development, and construction. The operations and support part has increased by 3.5 percent a year in real terms over the past decade, while the growth in investment has exceeded 5 percent.
To keep the baseline budget level at $532 billion, the Pentagon could reduce the FY2011 projected budget level for weapons development and purchases from about $190 billion to $170 billion. This could be done through a number of reductions in baseline defense spending. In particular, the U.S. government could acquire $20 billion in savings by taking some of the following measures, which I recommended in my recent report, Paying for the Troop Escalation in Afghanistan (pdf):
-Cut missile defense, while maintaining funding for its continued research and development. Saves about $6 billion.
-Keep the Virginia-class attack submarine production steady at one per year instead of ramping up to two per year in FY 2011. Saves about $2 billion
-Cancel the Zumwalt-class DDG-1000 at two ships. Saves about $1 billion
-Cancel the MV-22 Osprey and substitute cheaper helicopters while continuing production of the CV-22. Saves about $2 billion
-Cancel the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program. Saves about $294 million
-Cut the FY 2011 F-35 purchase to twenty, slow down production of the aircraft, cancel the alternate engine program, and replace the cut planes with drones. Saves about $4 billion
-Cut FY 2011 funding for the Army’s Future Combat Systems by one third. Saves about $763 million
-Continue offensive space-based weapons development at a low rate. Saves about $100 million
-Reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal to 600 deployed warheads and 400 in reserve. Saves about $13 billion
This would still leave the FY 2011 baseline defense budget $15 billion higher in real terms than it was at the height of the Reagan buildup. And by using a unified approach to national security budgeting—which brings together national security spending from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development—additional funds could be transferred from DOD to the Department of Homeland Security so that its budget is not cut.
While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that the House has the votes to pass the Senate health care bill if the Senate first approves a package of changes through the reconciliation process, the White House is suggesting that the President will refrain from calling Congress into action during tonight’s State of the Union address. According to reports, Obama will reaffirm his commitment to a comprehensive bill without laying out a roadmap for how to pass the legislation.
But since Congress is so close to passing reform, Obama’s endorsement of the effort is a step backward. As the process of reform has moved forward, Obama’s rhetoric has remained in campaign mode, without a clear path forward. In tonight’s address, Obama must call on Congress to pass the Senate bill, alongside a reconciliation package of fixes, and reclaim the urgency that characterized his address in September. During that speech, Obama said, “I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last” and reminded lawmakers that it is “[o]ur collective failure to meet this challenge — year after year, decade after decade — has led us to the breaking point“:
Well, the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care. Now is the time to deliver on health care. [...]
But know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it’s better politics to kill this plan than to improve it. (Applause.) I won’t stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what’s in this plan, we will call you out. (Applause.) And I will not — and I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.
Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it the most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true. That is why we cannot fail. Because there are too many Americans counting on us to succeed — the ones who suffer silently, and the ones who shared their stories with us at town halls, in e-mails, and in letters.
Congressional leaders, health policy experts and progressive advocates have called on Democrats to quickly pass a comprehensive health care reform bill. Tonight, it’s the President’s turn to rush our lawmakers into action.
Media looking for comments on the speech and on how climate action creates jobs can reach me via email (click here) or quote the post below.
White House advisers spinning the boss’s State of the Union message late today are telling lawmakers to expect President Obama to press for passage of controversial climate change legislation because it will create jobs….
Job creation will be the president’s top priority. He will play up green jobs with a claim that passing energy and climate legislation””unlikely this year””will create jobs.
Shhh. It’s a secret: The climate and clean energy jobs bill … creates jobs. For a discussion of two major 2009 studies see “New analysis shows how clean energy legislation will create 1.7 million jobs and opportunities for low-income families, including lower energy bills“).
Oh and the bill would stimulate the economy, according to one Nobel laureate (see Krugman : Climate action “now might actually help the economy recover from its current slump” by giving “businesses a reason to invest in new equipment and facilities”). In fact, Krugman pointed out in November: