Anyone who expected that President Obama would triangulate — to move to the center as Bill Clinton did, capturing Republican ideas and making them his own — was proven wrong last night. In a very long speech reminiscent of his first quasi-State of the Union speech a year ago, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to health care “reform,” the “cap and trade” energy tax and went farther left, proposing repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law that precludes gays from serving openly in the military.
Obama had three goals last night. First, he needed to quell the unrest among his most liberal supporters on Capitol Hill who have spent the first year of his term running amok and are now feeling the heat generated by the Tea Party movement and Americans’ distrust of government. It is the force that culminated in Republican victories in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts. After that speech, many of the Dems will have to choose between meeting his demands and being re-elected in November.
Second, he had to chart a clear course toward economic recovery. About three million Americans lost their jobs since Obama took office. After his team promised that unemployment would crest below 8% last year — and after delivering sustained 10+% unemployment that wasn’t at all alleviated by the failed $1.2 trillion stimulus bill — the president needed to convince Americans that another “stimulus” would create millions of jobs.
And third, he needed to repair the damage his to national security that his specific, premeditated actions have caused. He failed on each count.
Obama did his best to sound as confident and charming as he did in the 2008 campaign. But his tone was combative, the speech internally inconsistent. He claimed that his micro-freeze on federal spending would — with his other ideas — pay for the huge increase in the federal deficit he had created.
By my count, Obama proposed fourteen new programs, most aimed at the economy. Though he proposed new tax incentives for businesses, making hard decisions on offshore drilling and more, it’s clear that his agenda will increase unemployment.
Obama’s agenda is comprised of job killers. The “cap and tax” plan will cause the price of energy to skyrocket and cost millions of jobs. (According to the Heritage Foundation, it could cost over 900,000 jobs.)
The health care reform plan he favors — which is comprehensively unpopular across the nation — will also reduce jobs while ending employers’ ability to provide health insurance for employees. It will cause the cost of healthcare insurance to rise for employers, resulting in more job losses.
Claiming that he would pay for the $1 trillion in new federal debt he’s created, Obama said that beginning in 2011, he would freeze federal spending, though he exempted most of the budget from the freeze.
Going into the speech, Obama’s micro-freeze was already under attack by his most fervent liberal allies. Only a few hours earlier, Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected the limitations Obama placed on the plan, saying that the freeze should extend to defense spending.
Obama’s micro-freeze is anything except significant, and won’t even amount to a drop in the bucket of national debt: it could — at most — reduce the deficit one-tenth of one percent between 2011 and 2020. But any such reduction will be vastly overcome by his continued spending spree.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, Obama’s freeze would save $10-15 billion in 2011. That’s against a deficit for which America will pay over $207 billion in interest on the debt next year, and which will result in interest payments growing to $723 billion per year in 2020.
Obama said he wants a new “stimulus” jobs program of $30 billion to give small businesses relief from capital gains tax and incentives to large and small businesses to invest in new plant and equipment. Another tax credit for small businesses would be aimed at those that hire new workers or raise the pay of current employees.
Last Sunday, three members of Obama’s team gave three different estimates of the jobs “created or saved” by the stimulus bill. White House political advisor David Axelrod said there were 2 million jobs created or saved. Valerie Jarrett — another close advisor and longtime Obama pal — said the stimulus saved “thousands and thousands” of jobs. And Presidential Press Secretary Robert Gibbs put the number at 1.5 million jobs. They are all fictional numbers.
The president adopted the biggest fiction, claiming 2 million jobs were created or saved. But how does that match the fact of sustained 10% unemployment?
Last May, months after the stimulus passed, the president said, “We are out of money.” But in his speech, he demanded that more be spent.
Obama’s commitment to his nationalization of health care is comprehensive. And – as he did in his September healthcare speech, he claimed he is open to better ideas. Obama said, “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. I’m eager to see it.”
But Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, has had a patient-oriented healthcare reform bill since last June. Price has asked to meet with Obama on it about a dozen times, and Obama has declined every time.
Obama said he recognized that there is a huge lack of trust in the government. He said,
“We face a deficit of trust — deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; and to give our people the government they deserve.”
He promises — again — openness and transparency. But how does that match up with the backroom dealing on the healthcare reform bill? The fact that Democratic leaders — especially Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — had to bribe his members to vote for the bill makes the president’s words ring hollow.
Obama — in perhaps his most unpresidential moment — chastised the members of the Supreme Court for the decision last week tossing out a large part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, obviously attempting to intimidate them. Justice Alito could be seen mouthing the words “not true” when Obama was mischaracterizing the decision.
Any pretense of moderation was abandoned. Obama promised to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on gays in the military. He said, “This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. It’s the right thing to do.”
And he added that immigration law reform — read amnesty for illegal aliens — was high on his priority list. “And we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system — to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nations.” After the shellacking they took over the McCain-Kennedy bill in 2007, most Democrats can’t be eager to start that fight again.
Obama gave short shrift to national security. And what he did say is reason for unease. He gave lip service to improving protections against terrorist attack, saying that improvements are being made immediately, including in intelligence. But his administration — and Speaker Pelosi — are still at war with the intelligence community. They face a special prosecutor who may yet indict CIA interrogators for “torture.”
Obama made no mention of closing the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba or moving terrorists to the US for trial or long-term detention. His major national security initiative is to enter another comprehensive arms control agreement with Russia: “I have embraced the vision of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan through a strategy that reverses the spread of these weapons, and seeks a world without them. To reduce our stockpiles and launchers, while ensuring our deterrent, the United States and Russia are completing negotiations on the farthest-reaching arms control treaty in nearly two decades.”
Only a naïve utopian can dream of a world without nuclear weapons. Especially as Iran closes on its goal of nuclear weapons. Iran? Obama would only say that they will face consequences. Who can believe him? Certainly not the mullahs in Tehran.
Obama mentioned his plan to address the Republican Conference retreat in Baltimore on Friday. It will be interesting to see if any hint of openness to Republican ideas comes out of that meeting. After the State of the Union speech, there’s little reason to believe that will be the result.