In the State of the Union 2013, Obama started out with a summary of all the improvements and progress that has been made in the past year. The highlights included our troops coming home, over 6 million new jobs, and our country having bought least amount of foreign oil in 20 yrs. He said that we have “cleared away the rubble of crisis and that the state of our union, is strong.”
However, there are still problems. Wages and incomes for the “under-appreciated” have barely budged. Our task is to rejuvenate, starting with the middle class, and restore the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities you can get ahead. He called Congress to remember that they are working for the many not the few and to encourage free enterprise. We should be opening the doors of opportunity to EVERY CHILD across this great nation. To achieve this, Obama said we must have bipartisanship and cooperation.
The first problem he addressed was the financial crisis and tax reform. So far, we have reduced our deficit by 2.5 trillion dollars out of our goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction. How exactly are we supposed to reduce the rest of our deficit? Some people have proposed saving only defense cuts, while making bigger cuts to education, job training, social security benefits and Medicare. But Obama maintains that we “can’t just cut our way to prosperity.” Instead, we need a balanced approach- both cuts and revenue. In that vein, he applauded the affordable car act. Then, he called Congress to reduce taxpayer subsidies, ask more from the wealthiest and change the way the government pays for Medicare to become based on quality of treatment instead of number/kinds of tests. He said he is open to more reforms as long as they don’t violate promises that either he or Congress have already made.
“Now,” said Obama, “is our best chance for bipartisan comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit.” Not working together to replace these drastic cuts will hurt our job market and economy even further.
The 2nd problem facing our nation is the job market- it’s improving but still has a ways to go. Obama called Congress to pass the rest of his Jobs plan and in addition new measures that are, according to him, fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget both parties agreed to a few months ago. He maintains that these additional measures will not increase the deficit and that we need, “not a bigger government but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad base growth.” Our first priority in achieving this while creating more job opportunities is to make the US a “magnet for new jobs” especially in manufacturing. To this end, Ford, Caterpillar and Apple have all agreed to move some of their manufacturing back to the US, as an example to others in this push to build and make more products in US. Another idea Obama has to additionally bolster our manufacturing is to create more government inspired manufacturing hubs, like one they made last year. Obama also stressed the need for our country to invest in the best ideas.
From innovative new ideas, Obama transitioned to the 3rd big problem for us to tackle- climate change. On the bright side, we are getting more of our oil at home versus overseas, our nation-wide carbon emissions have fallen and we are producing more natural gas than ever before. However for the sake of future generations, Obama says we need to do more. Although, “no single event makes a trend” the fact that the 12 hottest years ever have come in these past 15 and that we’ve suddenly had an upswing in natural disasters (droughts, Sandy, Nemo etc.) are no coincidence. He echoed a statement we’ve all heard before- we must act before it’s too late. Obama believes that progress in the scientific sector can also drive economic growth. He cited Senator John McCain’s previously proposed plan as an option but was firm on the fact that “with or without congress, legislation to reduce pollution, prepare the people for the potential consequences of climate changes and speed the transition to other forms of energy” will get passed. One such legislation he proposed was using some of our oil and gas revenues to form an energy security trust that will drive new research and technology to get cars off oil for good. According to Obama, our energy goal is to cut in half the energy wasted by homes and business over the next year, through legislation as well as the construction of more energy efficient buildings.
The 4th major problem Obama mentioned was crumbling infrastructure. He said that we must put people to work making the most urgent repairs, specifically on the nearly 70 thousand structurally unsafe bridges; a venture that should have joint private and public funding. We also need to address the housing market problems by getting the majority of homeowners to refinance at today’s rates, which will save tons of money. “Let’s prove there’s no better place to do business than in the United States of America and let’s start here, “ said Obama.
Tackling the energy market and solving our infrastructure problems will also help create new jobs. But just jobs are not enough. Citizens need to be equipped with the necessary skills and training to fill these jobs. This “training” must start AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, because according to Obama, the sooner a child begins learning, the better their chances of success later on in life. The 5th thing Obama addressed was early childhood education. For kids who need the most help, the ones who end up deserving help the most, don’t end up being able to get the education they need to better their life. This lack of schooling can change the course of the rest of their lives. Obama wants to ““make high quality preschool available to every child in America.” This would boost graduation rates, reduce High School pregnancy and maybe even reduce violence rates. Good preschool is a good foundation for success in society. Every American student needs opportunities like one such collaboration between New York public schools, IBM and the NY state gov. Obama also proposed a new educational challenge, to better equip graduates for a high tech economy which will reward partnerships with colleges and employers, and a greater focus on technology, science and math. However, even with better high schools, most students still need higher education. Obama wants to change the higher ed act so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive federal aid. “It’s a simple fact,” said Obama. “The more education you get, the more likely you are to have a good job and work your way into the middle class.”
The 6th issue he touched upon was immigration. Obama said that the US should remain open to everyone because we are better when we “harness the talents and ingenuity of striving hopeful immigrants.” To that end, it is time to pass comprehensive immigration reform including, but not limited to, stronger border security.
Next he discussed the necessity of women achieving freedom from discrimination and fear of domestic violence. To make that come true, he asked the house to reflect on Joe Biden’s proposal that touched upon similar issues and come up with their own proposal. Obama also said that women should earn a living equal to their efforts and therefore, we must pass the paycheck fairness act. To this he tagged along a push for raising the federal minimum wage to 9 dollars an hour saying that we must “reward an honest day’s work with honest days wages”. We must tie minimum wage to the cost of living so it finally becomes a wage you can live on. Building upon that, Obama stressed the need for equal ladders of opportunity in the middle class. As a way of leveling the playing field, the government wants to partner with 20 of the hardest hit towns to help them strengthen and improve.
The 9th issue he addressed was the war in Afghanistan. Because of how great our troops are, Obama said he could say with confidence that we will achieve mission of defeating core of Al Qaeda. Specifically, another 34,000 troops will come home and by the end of next year, the war in Afghanistan should be over. Beyond 2014, America’s commitment to Afghanistan will endure but the nature of the relationship will change- switch to focus on training of forces and counter-terrorism efforts that allow us to track down the remaining shadows of Al Qaeda.
Next, piggy backing off of counter-terrorism, Obama renewed his commitment to limiting the use of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons. He said that all countries must follow international obligations. He called out North Korea and Iran, saying that Iran specifically needs a diplomatic solution to its arms “problem.” If either country refuses to act as they should according to international code, the United States will do whatever it takes to prevent them from misusing powerful weapons. Additionally, he promised that the US and Russia will work together to reduce their respective nuclear arsenals as well.
Obama’s commitment to our nation’s security expands to include cyber attacks. Hackers are no longer just stealing identities but have upped the ante to greater security threats. Obama has signed an order that will increase our security standards and believes that Congress should pass legislation to secure networks and detour attacks.
Aside from threats, the world presents new positive opportunities:
- Trans-atlantic trade partnership with EU
- Progress in most impoverished parts; goal is to eradicate poverty and AIDS
- America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom (saw the power of hope in Burma)
- Strengthening of alliances, continuing to stable transitions to democracy (especially in the Middle East)
- Will keep pressure on the Syrian regime, and stand with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace
- Equal treatment for all service members, gay and straight
- Women are ready for combat
Obama ended with something I thought was a little out of sync with the rest of his speech but spoke to a campaign promise he had made, saying we all deserve the right to vote and to deny this to someone based on where they live, what their party affiliation is or because they can’t wait for insane amounts of time in line, is “betraying our ideals.” To fix this, he announced a nonpartisan commission to improve the voting experience in America.
Then things got emotional. “Everything I’ve said tonight means little,” said Obama, “if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource, our children.” To close his speech, Obama once again brought up the controversy-fraught topic of gun control. American’s have come together around “common sense reform”, including background checks designed to make it harder for the bad guys to get their hands on guns. Police chiefs are working on getting the “heavy-duty” guns and ammunition magazines off the streets.
In my opinion, Obama’s main points during this SOTU were bipartisanship, fiscal solutions, early childhood education, jobs, climate change, security and gun control. Of course, no law will ever perfectly solve all the challenges. “However, we weren’t sent here to be perfect, said Obama “but instead, to make what difference we can. We were sent here to look out for our fellow Americans, just as they look out for us every day.” Obama continued in what I felt was a call to action, saying, “We are citizens. That is a word that describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and future generations. Our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others.” It’s our turn now, as citizens, to write the next page in our country’s history.