Obama State of the Union discussion thread

President Barack Obama is making economic fairness a central theme of tonight’s State of the Union address. To bolster his proposals to increase tax rates on some forms of unearned income, billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s secretary will be one of First Lady Michelle Obama’s guests. A few excerpts from the prepared speech are after the jump, along with some White House “talking points” for allies. I’ll update this post later.

This thread is for any comments about the president’s speech or the Republican response, to be delivered by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

UPDATE: Added the text of Daniels’ response below, along with some thoughts about the president’s speech and reaction from members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation.

Excerpts released by the White House before the president’s speech:

— “Think about the America within our reach:  A country that leads the world in educating its people.  An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs.  A future where we’re in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren’t so tied to unstable parts of the world.  An economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded. ”

— “….The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive. No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them.”

— “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 to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place. No, we will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits. Tonight, I want to speak about how we move forward, and lay out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last – an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.”

— “Let’s never forget: Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that does the same. It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts. An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody.”

Excerpts from talking points released today by the White House Office of Legislative Affairs:

• The president believes this is a make or break moment for the middle class and those trying to reach it. What’s at stake is the very survival of the basic American promise that if you work hard, you can do well enough to raise a family, own a home and put a little away for retirement. […]

• The fact is, the economic security of the middle class has eroded for decades.  Long before the recession, good jobs and manufacturing began leaving our shores. Hard work stopped paying off for too many Americans. Those at the top saw their incomes rise like never before, but the vast majority of Americans struggled with costs that were growing and paychecks that weren’t.

• In 2008, the house of cards collapsed. Mortgages were sold to people who couldn’t afford or understand them. Banks made huge bets and bonuses made with other people’s money. It was a crisis that cost us more than eight million jobs and plunged our economy and the world into a crisis from which we are still fighting to recover.

• The president has been clear that we need to do more to create jobs and help economic growth. But under his leadership and thanks to action taken by this president, the economy is growing again. The economy has added a total of 3.2 million private sector jobs over the last 22 months.

• American manufacturing is creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s. The American auto industry is coming back. Today, American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years.  Together, we’ve agreed to cut the deficit by more than $2 trillion.  And the president signed into law new rules to hold Wall Street accountable. He stands on a solid record and tonight will lay out a blueprint that will ensure an economy built to last over the long term.

• For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. We’ve decimated al Qaeda’s leadership, delivered justice to Osama bin Laden, and put that terrorist network on the path to defeat. We’ve made important progress in Afghanistan, and begun a transition so Afghans can assume more responsibility. We joined with allies and partners to protect the Libyan people as they ended the regime of Muammar Qadhafi. […]

I did not watch Daniels’ response, but here is the prepared text:

“The status of ‘loyal opposition’ imposes on those out of power some serious responsibilities: to show respect for the Presidency and its occupant, to express agreement where it exists.  Republicans tonight salute our President, for instance, for his aggressive pursuit of the murderers of 9/11, and for bravely backing long overdue changes in public education.  I personally would add to that list admiration for the strong family commitment that he and the First Lady have displayed to a nation sorely needing such examples.

“On these evenings, Presidents naturally seek to find the sunny side of our national condition.  But when President Obama claims that the state of our union is anything but grave, he must know in his heart that this is not true.

“The President did not cause the economic and fiscal crises that continue in America tonight.  But he was elected on a promise to fix them, and he cannot claim that the last three years have made things anything but worse: the percentage of Americans with a job is at the lowest in decades.  One in five men of prime working age, and nearly half of all persons under 30, did not go to work today.  

“In three short years, an unprecedented explosion of spending, with borrowed money, has added trillions to an already unaffordable national debt.  And yet, the President has put us on a course to make it radically worse in the years ahead.  The federal government now spends one of every four dollars in the entire economy; it borrows one of every three dollars it spends.  No nation, no entity, large or small, public or private, can thrive, or survive intact, with debts as huge as ours.”

Obama’s speech seemed like standard campaign-season fare to me. I’d be excited if I thought he would follow through on most of the ideas he outlined in the speech.

The New York Times put together an interesting graphic comparing “[s]elected words used by President Obama in his State of the Union addresses, and by Republican presidential candidates in their debates, television interviews and major speeches since May.”

I liked the energy section of the speech, especially the fact that Obama mentioned incentives to boost energy-efficiency. Too bad Congress will never act on his call to end subsidies for oil companies.

Here’s a clip of Obama talking about tax reform and the “Buffett rule.” Specifically, “if you make more than a million dollars a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes.” It sounds like the president is promising to go to the mat not to extend the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent beyond this year. However, letting those income tax cuts expire wouldn’t force the super-wealthy to pay a higher effective tax rate, because people like Warren Buffett and Mitt Romney earn most of their income from investments. Obama did not propose raising the capital gains tax to 30 percent. Rather, he said people making more than a million dollars in income shouldn’t qualify for various exemptions and deductions. I expect furious lobbying from the non-profit sector against that proposal, on the grounds that charitable donations would plummet if wealthy people couldn’t get a write-off.

The president wants everyone to know that there are “no Americans” fighting in Iraq anymore. Technically, that is not accurate, because there are quite a few U.S. military contractors on the ground. But that won’t stop Obama from using this sound bite during his re-election campaign.

Reaction from Democratic Senator Tom Harkin:

“Tonight, it was encouraging to hear the President outline his blueprint for getting our country back on track with policies that invest in America and promote a better, more fair tax structure.  This is a blueprint that will make America strong for the decades to come.

“It is clear from my travel in Iowa and hearings in Washington that there is no greater challenge facing Congress in the year ahead than to protect and restore the middle class, which is being crushed by widespread unemployment, rising income inequality, and a system that no longer works for them.

“As a woman from DeWitt, Iowa told the Committee back in June, ‘All we have ever wanted is security and a little comfort: to know that our bills are paid, our needs are met, that we can have a real getaway every now and then, that our children can pursue higher education without the burden of student loan debt, and that someday we can retire and enjoy our final years together in the way we choose.’  In short, she wants to be part of the working middle class.

“While Congressional Republicans have advocated failed trickle-down economics for the rich, it is time for percolate-up economics for the middle class.  As we say in the Midwest, you don’t fertilize a tree from the top down, you fertilize the roots.

“I have argued that the more urgent task is in creating jobs and rebuilding the middle class.  This means continuing to make investments in areas like education and workforce training as well as securing pensions and ensuring college is affordable.  Our country must rebuild our physical infrastructure to include 21st century transportation and energy systems and we need policies to reverse the long-term decline in manufacturing jobs.  These are the investments that will make America competitive in the global economy with a stronger, educated workforce, and these will be the investments at the heart of legislation I plan to introduce in the coming months to rebuild the middle class.  

“The fact is, the state of our union depends on the strength of the middle class.  The middle class is the backbone of this country, and it is time for Congress to have the backbone to not only defend it, but rebuild it.”

Reaction from Republican Senator Chuck Grassley:

“Americans are looking for leadership.  The 13 million people who are unemployed need to know that leaders in Washington can come together to get people back to work and move the country in the right direction.

“Washington needs to focus on fostering opportunities with an environment where the economy can improve and jobs can be created.  Tax certainty and low taxes are a major factor, and one of the biggest tax increases in history will happen at the end of this year if Congress and the President don’t stop it.  America’s fiscal problems don’t come from a revenue shortage, but from too much spending, and government spending needs to be reduced.  A massive federal debt gets in the way of economic growth.  So does the heavy hand of government regulation, and it must be lifted.  America also needs new export markets for our products and services, and the economy is helped by affordable energy, so domestic production has got to be a priority.  The President’s decision last week, to deny the Keystone pipeline project, prevents energy-related infrastructure development that creates jobs, in this case as many as 20,000 jobs.  The decision also stymies an energy partnership with a friendly neighbor, and whether or not the United States approves the Keystone project, the oil will be produced, and if it doesn’t come here, China likely will get it.  The result of this decision is just the opposite of what our national priority ought to be and that’s opportunity.

“Since 2009, President Obama’s theory of economic stimulus and government intervention has failed in terms of job creation, economic growth and fiscal responsibility, so we need a new direction.  At the same time, President Obama seems determined to test and even exceed the powers of his office.  America has a system of checks and balances that’s generally worked for more than two centuries.  The President’s interest in putting the executive branch above the other branches of government is unconstitutional and counter-productive.  It’s something Americans rejected 235 years ago.  Today, finding common ground with the elected representatives of Congress would be more productive than trying to govern by edict from the Oval Office.”

Reaction from Representative Bruce Braley (D, IA-01):

 “I’m glad the President so strongly emphasized strengthening the middle class tonight.  I was especially encouraged by his focus on economic fairness, creating jobs, and investing in education.

“The American middle class is being squeezed more than ever, yet Wall Street bankers and big corporations are making record profits.  It seems like there are two sets of rules – one for the elite, and one for everyone else.  America has always been about opportunity.  We need to level the playing field and keep the promise that if you work hard, you can get ahead.  An easy first step in strengthening the middle class is to pass a yearlong extension of the payroll tax cut.

“Our schools, colleges, and universities are avenues of opportunity.  We need to strengthen education if we are going to succeed in the global economy.  China and India are churning out well-educated and skilled workers.  We need to meet their challenge.”

Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02) released the following video response to the president’s speech:

Loebsack’s written statement differs only slightly from the videotaped response:

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Dave Loebsack today released the following statement after President Obama’s State of the Union address.  In the spirit of civility and bipartisan cooperation, which began last year following the Giffords tragedy, Loebsack sat with Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan for tonight’s address. Congressman Loebsack and Congressman Amash joined the bipartisan Common Ground Caucus together earlier this year.

“I was pleased to watch the President share his thoughts directly with the American people this evening.  Last night I hosted a telephone town hall and many Iowans shared with me what they believe will help move our nation forward.

“I believe the first thing Congress needs to do this year is extend the payroll tax cut for the full year so working Iowans do not see their taxes increase come March 1st.

“Tonight, the President highlighted the importance of manufacturing to our economy and to growing the middle-class.  I have long called for a manufacturing strategy to once again “make it in America.”  My number one priority is to fix the economy by promoting job creation and stopping Iowans’ jobs from being shipped overseas.  We also have to ensure Iowans have access to the educational opportunities necessary to take advantage of these new job opportunities and to out-compete and out-innovate the rest of the world.

“I hear from folks all the time that it seems like they just can’t catch a break these days.  I worry not just about our children and grandchildren having the same opportunities we did when we were growing up, but also about the kitchen table issues that are affecting Iowans every day right now.  There are serious issues facing us and that face our country’s and children’s future.  These are American issues – not political or partisan ones – and that’s why I’m continuing my efforts to make Iowans’ voices heard and to work across party lines on issues like tax cuts for working families.  I hope that going forward from tonight’s address, Washington will commit to working together to move our economy and our country forward.”

Click here for a video of Congressman Loebsack’s remarks.

Reaction from Representative Leonard Boswell (D, IA-03):

“While I don’t always see eye-to-eye on every issue with the President, I do agree with him that our ultimate focus going forward should get back to the basics of putting Americans back to work and bolstering our nation’s economy.

“The way people in Congress have been acting lately is downright disgraceful. We need to stop this perpetual campaigning and deliver real results to the American people who are expecting us to do our jobs.

“As we move  forward, Congress must set aside differences to pass legislation that will give American families the certainty they deserve to plan for the future and work towards rebuilding the economy so it works for all, not just the wealthy few.”

Reaction from Representative Tom Latham (R, IA-04):

“Too many of our neighbors in Iowa continue to wake up each morning to high unemployment, grim economic news, and deep uncertainty in their hearts and minds.  We’ve witnessed the longest period of sustained unemployment since the Great Depression, and the American people deserve an accountable federal government that promotes economic opportunity.

“In this tragic climate of negative, gotcha politics, I am dedicated to the principle of putting aside politics and partisanship to build a future of economic security for every single Iowan – from youth to those in their retirement years. That’s why I’ve worked with my colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives to pass more than 30 bipartisan jobs bills in recent months and why I work for policies that foster a quick economic turnaround.  I continue to stand ready to work with any of my colleagues in Congress – regardless of party affiliation – and the President to find common-sense solutions that bring job and economic security back to our main streets, small businesses and farms.”  

Representative Steve King (R, IA-05) released this video response to the State of the Union:


“I’m not very optimistic about going through more of the same without solutions in sight,” said King. “And the President, of course is to make the case why he should be elected President. We know that three years ago he said that if he hadn’t solved this problem by now, he would be a one term President. It doesn’t look like he’s going to stick by that willingly, but the American people will remember in November.”

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