A president's first address to Congress after beginning a second term should be an opportunity to trumpet his accomplishments as much as it is a platform to call for new policies. Last week's speech by President Obama was markedly different for its omission of his administration's record. Instead, he spoke as if he were beginning his first term and not accountable for the last four years.
For example, he scarcely mentioned the top two issues on people's minds -- jobs and federal deficits. In over 6,000 words, he referenced the debt only twice and never once talked about unemployment. He did manage to work in four comments about the budget. Each time he spoke as if he were just beginning the fight to restore the economy -- promising his new big government programs would reinvigorate job creation.
While pledging to shelter the struggling middle class, he left out his administration's plethora of regulations and red tape that have smothered job growth. Interestingly, he only mentioned his signature legislative accomplishment, Obamacare, once. His new health care law has already robbed small businesses of confidence and driven up health insurance costs by more than $3,100 for employers with fewer than 200 workers.
I came to the speech hoping the president would seek a consensus with Congress to achieve three goals: freeing America's economy to create new and better jobs, balancing the federal budget and protecting the long-term solvency of Social Security and Medicare. America will not dig its way out of a $16-plus trillion debt without a booming economy with millions more Americans working and paying taxes instead of sitting on the sidelines. Equally important, we must take real steps toward curbing federal spending -- not raising it year after year. Finally, we have to address Medicare and Social Security cost growth so these programs can survive to serve future Americans.
By the end of his hour-long address, I was deeply disappointed. President Obama glossed over the nine percent average unemployment of his first term and failed to mention the near doubling of the number of long-term unemployed Americans between his first State of the Union and his fifth. Nor did he talk about the near $6 trillion increase in the national debt over the last four years -- equal to the combined debt of all the presidents from Washington to Clinton. There was no talk of the near doubling of the average price of gasoline from $1.85 to $3.64 under his watch. He did not talk about saving Social Security, and effectively dismissed concerns about the mountainous debt gripping our country.
Instead, the president ticked off a to-do list of old favorites. More "shovel-ready" style government stimulus, more investment in costly and unproven alternative energy and more tax increases to help pay for it all. And that is the rub. I thought I heard gasps on the House floor when the president claimed his new spending spree would be paid for. To use his words, "Nothing I'm proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime." Pardon me, Mr. President, but you've sung that tune before and it fell flat. You also promised health care reform would not add a single dime to the deficit. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says it will actually add $1 trillion to the federal deficit. You also promised to cut the deficit in half by the end of your first term. The deficits from 2009 to 2012 were among the highest in U.S. history.
If our economy has seen some signs of life in recent months, it surely must be credited to the domestic energy sector, which, despite the best efforts of the Obama administration to discourage fossil fuel development, has led the world in revolutionary extraction techniques. Indeed, even the Chinese, among other energy-thirsty nations, are studying our hydraulic fracturing methods as a way to increase their own domestic energy production. If President Obama wants to lead America back to recovery, he should start by removing his red tape on energy development on public lands and encourage more such innovation.
If there was one point in his speech where the president appeared to reach across the aisle, it was on the need to reform the federal tax code. We can all agree it is hopelessly broken. But he will have to demonstrate his seriousness, and to date, that has been lacking. Reforming the tax code will not get us very far if government spending is allowed to continue to skyrocket as the president envisions.
Mr. President, the House of Representatives has experience passing federal budgets that actually reduce spending and we have experience passing bills that free up small businesses to expand and grow jobs. We are ready to work with you if you are truly serious about restoring America's prosperity.
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