It’s the first month of a new year, and in the political world it can only mean one thing. That’s right; it’s the State of the Union, a constitutional event where the President of the United States speaks to Congress and the nation about the state of our country. For President Obama, this one is special because it will be the first one in front of a divided Congress. For over an hour, he laid out his agenda for the new year, including spending proposals and programs he wants to emphasize. After watching the whole speech, I found something out about his speeches, and what follows after he gives them. He says one thing, and doesn’t back it up afterwards.
Obama’s speech was basically the same formula he’s used ever since he took office: make an effort to sound bipartisan, and then share with the country his new ways to “invest” taxpayer money in new technology and new job sectors. Most of his proposals, such as high-speed internet for 98% of all Americans and investing in a high-speed railway like what they have in Europe, are proposals that are either unnecessary or an improper use of federal money and power. Starting with his high-speed internet scheme, this is not even a serious problem. If he had even researched how far flung the internet has become, he would’ve realized that private internet providers like Verizon and AT&T, already have that many people covered in their packages. In addition, there are numerous other private internet providers that have been able to market the internet at low prices to rural Americans. So what is the need for federal investment of any kind in this area? If people want the internet, it isn’t that hard to purchase it anymore.
As for high-speed trains, that is about as pointless as a program could be. Rail transportation in this country has fallen by the wayside for the past 30 years, which was why President Nixon had to nationalize Amtrak. Ever since that point, Amtrak has been in debt, both due to the lack of customers and its general inefficiency. For example, to go from Boston to New York, it would take you the same amount of time going by bus as it would by train, even though the train is $45 and the bus is only $15. Adding a new railway system would yield the same results: people still won’t ride it, and will choose cheaper and faster modes of transportation like buses and airplanes. A better solution would be to let private businesses get in on the action, and create competition for the best trains, which would result in faster, more efficient transportation at cheaper prices, instead of a floundering nationalized system.
Even though most of the speech was the same old shtick about how government must lead the way if we are to dig ourselves out of the giant hole we got ourselves into, it is encouraging to hear Obama discuss spending cuts, and has admitted how Republican ideas have spurred job growth. In his speech he mentioned how the tax cut package signed last December helped create jobs, and temporarily brought the unemployment numbers down. Considering Obama campaigned on repealing the Bush tax cuts wholesale, and kept that thought process through his first two years in office, it was an interesting change of heart. I was also impressed with his five-year spending freeze proposal, and cutting tens of billions from the defense department. The question though is will they be actual cuts, or just lumping five years of spending into one year. Considering how he now has a Republican house that has laid out a plan to cut nearly $2.5 trillion over 10 years, these cuts may be actual cuts, but they might get turned into the classic “hide the money” shell game by the Democratic Senate and by the congressman that still wants that engine factory in his district.
Also of note was how he will veto any bill that has earmarks in it. I had to do a double take on this one because I couldn’t believe him of all people, the architect of the pork-filled stimulus package, would say something like that. Then I returned to reality because I remembered that this is Obama, the architect of the pork-filled stimulus package, so I expect there to be some things that will slip through the nets of both Congress and Obama. Republicans have promised to end earmarks; with some members taking the “no earmarks” pledge, but it’s the ones that didn’t that are in high positions of power (like the chair of the House Appropriations Committee Harold Rogers), and need to be reminded about what happens when you abandon the conservative principles you campaigned on.
As for the spending cuts, they don’t go deep enough. From what Obama mentioned in his speech, they sound like nothing more than taking a bucket of water out of a river, like last year’s spending freeze promise. The elimination of duplicative agencies and the condensing of most major departments are a good first step, but there has to be more. The tens of billions removed from military spending represents but a fraction of the military budget, most of which are for weapons to fight Cold War style battles, or have been unused for nearly twenty years. There is no reason why we can’t get rid of such frivolous things and reduce the budget by 20% or more, while still giving our troops and homeland security the most modern equipment needed to fight today’s wars. It would make a huge dent in the deficit, and may even improve our military’s fighting ability.
So all in all, there was a little bit of improvement in Obama’s speech, but it is still only words. The real test lies with Congress, and whether or not they can work together to make meaningful reforms to get out of our fiscal hole. Spending needs to stop, and cuts need to be taken seriously and have a meaningful impact. Also, if Congress wants to “invest” money on anything, they must cut spending from somewhere else, rather than jack up taxes even further. Only by shrinking the size of government can we get back to being fiscally stable, and I just hope our leaders in Washington understand this, on both sides of the aisle.