Before President Obama delivers his fifth State of the Union address this evening, here are six things you should know about the nation’s most pressing issues:
1. We don’t have a spending problem. Republicans love to claim that government spending is out of control and is holding back the economy. But under President Obama, government spending has grown at its slowest pace since the Eisenhower administration. According to the latest projections from the Congressional Budget Office, the nation’s deficits have shrunk by trillions of dollars, and the debt is close to being stabilized as a percentage of the economy. In fact, spending cuts are holding back the economic recovery — what’s needed isn’t more austerity but a plan to create jobs. In fact, the deficit reduction achieved since 2011 has still overwhelmingly favored spending cuts to tax increases, meaning that any budget deal going forward should include new revenue in order to be truly balanced.
2. A path to citizenship will lead to economic growth. Obama will repeat calls for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship, a position that has strong backing from a majority of Americans, including 59 percent of Republicans. While a common conservative myth characterizes immigrants as “takers,” immigrants are essential to strengthening the economy and are no more likely to participate in social programs than the native-born. Legalizing undocumented immigrants would raise the nation’s gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion in the next decade, raise wages for everyone, and lead to between $4.5 and $5.4 billion in increased tax revenue. Conservatives’ answer to immigration reform, which omits earned citizenship, would create “a permanent underclass of workers.”
3. Extreme weather fueled by climate change will cost the U.S. trillions. In his inauguration address, Obama said, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” Without action, the U.S. faces a “scary truth” of the cost of climate change. A 2012 study found extreme weather, fueled by climate change, shaved off $1.2 trillion, or 1.6 percent, of global GDP. Climate change already affects Americans’ everyday lives, with record extreme weather costing the U.S. at least $126 billion since 2011. In his second term, Obama can take additional action by rejecting the Keystone XL dirty tar sands, cutting carbon pollution, improving resiliency to extreme weather, and advancing clean energy, among other efforts.
4. LGBT people can be fired for being who they are. Obama made history by endorsing same-sex marriage, but in 29 states, employers can still to fire people for being gay, while employees in 34 states can lose their jobs for being transgender. Obama is reportedly considering an executive order protecting LGBT employees of federal contractors and has called on Congress to pass the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) banning employers with 15 or more employees from terminating workers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
5. Most Americans support sensible gun-safety regulations. Obama has offered sensible gun regulations like universal background checks in the speech, underpinning what NBC News calls “the largest effort to pass [sic] federal gun control measures in years.” It’s even backed by some Republicans, including Sen. Mark Kirk and Sen. Tom Coburn, as well as the overwhelming majority of the American population. 32,000 Americans die from firearm wounds every year, 11,000 of which are homicides. 80 percent of firearms used in crimes are purchased privately, meaning the purchaser didn’t have to go through a background check under current federal law.
6. Reducing nuclear weapons stockpiles will not undermine national security. Obama has a long history of aiming to prevent nuclear proliferation and championing further disarmament. Obama is expected to announce a reduction in the oversized U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile during his address and warn of the dangers of proliferation around the world, particularly in states like North Korea and Iran.
At 9:00 PM, ThinkProgress will live-blog and live-tweet Obama’s address and the official responses from Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rand Paul (R-KY), offering critical context and real time fact-checks.