by Laura K. Garrison
|For those who weren’t playing along last night.|
Last night, President Obama delivered the State of the Union address to a crowded House Chambers. A year into his second term, and a difficult year at that (troubled roll-out of Obamacare, government shutdown, failed legislation in gun control, immigration reform, etc.), the President delivered a typically optimistic speech, heavy with the American exceptionalism and can-do spirit one expects from a State of the Union address. While there were several fun quips in the middle, the speech got off to a serious start and ended on a heartfelt, emotional note. You can read and watch the address here, and check out our notes below.
President Obama began his address by remarking on what people around the country did today – a teacher, an entrepreneur, an autoworker, a farmer, a rural doctor – wholesome images of Americans hard at work. It wasn’t the most engaging opening, but it’s of note that he started off with the teacher who “spent extra time with a student who needed it and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades.” Education would be a recurring theme in the President’s speech, and I think it speaks volumes that he chose this, rather than something related to the economy, as his leading image.
Next came the good news: “the lowest unemployment rate in over five years, a rebounding housing market, a manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s, more oil produced…at home than we buy from the rest of the world, the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years, our deficits cut by more than half; and for the first time…in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is.” All in all, 2013 was our “breakthrough year.” This year, the President says, will be our “year of action.”
Though he promised to work with Congress, the President also made clear that he would search for ways to go around them “whenever and wherever I can” if they do not cooperate. The President mentioned the College Opportunity Summit, which DSpar attended, to work on making college education a reality for all students. The President then received a thumbs up from Speaker Boehner after a reference to his humble beginnings as a barkeep’s son. Boehner sat stone-faced the rest of the night.
Obama went on to support tax code reform to benefit companies that insource jobs back to the United States. Money saved from this reform would go towards improving infrastructure and creating more jobs. He announced his unwavering support for small businesses and technological innovation and encouraged Congress to undo cuts to research.
“Listen, China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines; and neither, neither should we. We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow. This is an edge America cannot surrender.”
Energy and the Environment
While Obama proudly declared that his “all of the above” energy plan is working to make energy independence a reality, he focused primarily on natural gas. While a step-up from foreign oil, natural gas is not always “extracted safely,” i.e.fracking. He mentioned solar power and asserted that tax reform must prevent Big Oil from receiving $4 billion a year, so that this money can be invested in alternative fuel sources. And, to restate what we already know, the President made clear that climate change is indeed real.
“But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”
Immigration, Job Training, and Unemployment
The President encouraged the House to pass immigration reform and touted the benefits of doing so, including economic growth and reduced deficits. He assigned Vice President Joe Biden to the task of creating job training programs, and he admonished Congress for allowing 1.6 million people to lose their unemployment insurance.
He gave a shout-out to Costco, the wholesale retailer known for its higher wages and good employment policies. President Obama announced that he would be putting forth an executive order so that federal contractors pay federally-funded employees at least $10.10 an hour. He acknowledged that the country’s minimum wage is almost twenty percent less than when Ronald Reagan took office. He mentioned Senator Tom Harkin and Representative George Miller whose bill will raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10.
Foreign Policy and the Military
President Obama reminded the country that all troops are out of Iraq, and those in Afghanistan are scheduled to leave by the end of the year, effectively ending America’s longest war. He warned against the threat of al Qaeda in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Mali and proclaimed American support for the Syrian opposition that “rejects…terrorist networks.” Obama stated his wishes to move away from “permanent war footing,” acknowledging needed limits to drone warfare and government surveillance. Returning to one of his early campaign promises, the President announced his intent to push for the closing of Guantanamo Bay. The highlight of foreign policy was Iran: he spoke of the negotiations to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and asserted that any attempt by Congress to create new sanctions would be vetoed.
The President’s goals for veterans include healthcare (and mental healthcare) and job training. Here, Obama told the story of Army Ranger Cory Remsburg who, on his tenth deployment, was severely injured by a roadside bomb. As he told Cory’s inspirational story of pain and recovery, tears welled in my eyes. This is where the President truly hit his stride, and I can’t think of a better person to honor at the State of the Union.
Image courtesy of the AAUW.