As the president prepares the first State of the Union address of his second term, America is closer to peace than it has been in more than a decade and the economy is closer to recovery than it’s been since the financial crisis. In fact, the United States Treasury reported a surplus, the first in five years, during the month of January.
Yet the Republican Party won’t acknowledge any of this.
Tonight, we’ll get both Republican and Tea Party responses to the State of the Union that could have been written in the months after the president took office. They’ll rant about the exploding debt and blame the president for the deficit he inherited. But what they won’t note is that greatest risk we face right now is that the deficit is falling too fast. It has never fallen this fast without triggering a recession.
The only thing the GOP hates more than admitting that the president inherited a huge deficit is that he is cutting it at a historically fast rate.
Our spending problem is that we’re not doing enough of it in the short term. As The Atlantic‘s Matthew O’Brien writes, “The only way to close the budget deficit is to close the jobs deficit.”
It’s the only thing that ever has, as O’Brien’s chart below shows. The blue line is deficit-as-a-share-of-GDP and the red line is the unemployment rate.
Our economy can either go down the road of the United Kingdom — where austerity is creating recession or debt — or Japan, where government intervention is spurring the economy back to life.
Republicans will, as they have for four years, argue for cuts and austerity.
They’ll also try to extend the olive leaves that are supposed to indicate a “rebranding” away from being “the party of stupid.” Both Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is giving the Republican response, and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), on tap for the Tea Party, will make the case that they value immigrants — because doing the opposite helped kill Mitt Romney’s campaign.
But the intolerance and backward thinking of the party can’t be hidden. Ted Nugent will be their invited guest. Twenty-two Republican men in the Senate voted against the Violence Against Women Act. And on a party-line vote, Republicans on the Armed Services committee voted against a former Republican senator to be the new Secretary of Defense, mainly because he doesn’t think the Iraq War was worth thousands of American lives and nearly a trillion dollars in taxpayer money.
And the House Republicans are vowing to kill any immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.
This is the state of politics as President Obama prepares to give his State of the Union address. We’ll see if he can transcend it.
Excerpts of all three of tonight’s major speeches are now out.
The biggest news is that the president will call for a voting commission to investigate the voting problems from Election Day 2012.
Here’s a taste of President Obama’s pitch for growth that doesn’t add to the deficit:
“It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class.
It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.
It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation of ours.”
“Tonight, I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago. Let me repeat – nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”
Marco Rubio will basically reprise Mitt Romney’s attack that the president hates free enterprise:
“This opportunity – to make it to the middle class or beyond no matter where you start out in life – it isn’t bestowed on us from Washington. It comes from a vibrant free economy where people can risk their own money to open a business. And when they succeed, they hire more people, who in turn invest or spend the money they make, helping others start a business and create jobs. Presidents in both parties – from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan – have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle class prosperity. But President Obama? He believes it’s the cause of our problems.”
But he’ll also echo President Obama’s classic speech from the 2004 Democratic National Convention:
“Despite our differences, I know that both Republicans and Democrats love America. I pray we can come together to solve our problems, because the choices before us could not be more important. If we can get our economy healthy again, our children will be the most prosperous Americans ever. And if we do not, we will forever be known as the generation responsible for America’s decline.”
Rand Paul will do a little bit of putting a pox on both houses before calling for ridiculous amounts of austerity.
“Both parties have been guilty of spending too much, of protecting their sacred cows, of backroom deals in which everyone up here wins, but every taxpayer loses. It is time for a new bipartisan consensus. It is time Democrats admit that not every dollar spent on domestic programs is sacred. And it is time Republicans realize that military spending is not immune to waste and fraud.”
“Not only should the sequester stand, many pundits say the sequester really needs to be at least4 trillion to avoid another downgrade of America’s credit rating. Both parties will have to agree to cut, or we will never fix our fiscal mess.”
And here’s a visual preview of the responses:
You know that Ted Nugent has said he would be in dead or in jail if President Obama was elected — a thinly veiled threat that the Secret Service investigated. The National Memo‘s Editor-in-Chief Joe Conason has called for the House’s Sergeant at Arms to deny Nugent entrance to the speech. Too bad it isn’t being held at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Then Nuge would never be let in.
It should be noted that Marco Rubio was one of the 22 male Republican senators who voted against the Violence Against Women Act, which passed the Senate again today.
Obviously he won’t mention this in his response tonight, but he did release a statement that’s a mishmash of all the reasons why the male leadership of the House Republicans won’t even bring the bill up for a vote:
“Unfortunately, I could not support the final, entire legislation that contains new provisions that could have potentially adverse consequences. Specifically, this bill would mandate the diversion of a portion of funding from domestic violence programs to sexual assault programs, although there’s no evidence to suggest this shift will result in a greater number of convictions. These funding decisions should be left up to the state-based coalitions that understand local needs best, but instead this new legislation would put those decisions into the hands of distant Washington bureaucrats in the Department of Justice. Additionally, I have concerns regarding the conferring of criminal jurisdiction to some Indian tribal governments over all persons in Indian country, including non-Indians.”
And a Tea Partier has compared President Obama to Hitler, which means today is a day of the week ending in “y.”
One of the more ridiculous charades of the last few weeks is the GOP trying put the blame for the sequestration they voted for on President Obama. They’re basically bragging that the president forced them into something they hate.
How many times did Boehner say “nothing is agreed to til everything is agreed to” before he & Obama agreed to plan that included sequester?
— Brian Beutler (@brianbeutler) February 13, 2013
The sequestration was the ransom for the debt limit hostage taking.
Basically the GOP is saying: WHY DID YOU PAY OUR RANSOM?!
Republicans, as they always do when they recognize their ideas are extremely unpopular, are going to introduce a “balanced budget amendment.” It’s a ruse designed to focus the public’s attention on fiscal discipline without having to name actual programs they want to cut. Robert Reich explains:
It also gives the Party something to be for, in contrast to the upcoming fights in which its members will be voting against compromises to avoid the next fiscal cliff, continue funding the government, and raising the debt ceiling.
Perhaps most importantly, it advances the Republican’s biggest economic lie – that the budget deficit is “the transcendent issue of our time,” in McConnell’s words, and that balancing the budget will solve America’s economic problems.
What are they distracting from?
The budget deficit and cumulative debt are not the “transcendent issue of our time.” The transcendent issue is jobs and wages. Cutting the budget deficit now will only result in higher unemployment, lower wages, and more suffering.
Of course, if you actually care about a balanced budget, you might want to start by voting out the exact guys who blew the surplus.
To avoid Dorner coverage, I just turned to Fox News and watched a baffling banter between Laura Ingraham and Bill O’Reilly. Ingraham said, “If things go bad for Republicans, Speaker Boehner will change colors.”
O’Reilly responded, “I’ve got news for you. Things are going bad for Republicans.”
Are they allowed to be honest like that? Thinking O’Reilly must see himself as a candidate for Pope and doesn’t need to worry about Roger Ailes anymore.
The president will propose raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour, adjusted for inflation. This is a surprise and sure to please progressives. Raising the minimum wage is the Democrats’ version of tax cuts — an issue that always gets the base smiling.
The president opened by quoting a conciliatory note from John F. Kennedy, saying the Constitution makes all in the government “partners in progress.”
He sums up the progress by saying the “the state of the union is strong.”
I guess we can go to bed now.
The president was supposed to be confrontational about the sequester. But the section was quick and sunny. He didn’t put the blame on Republicans. And he didn’t make it sound as scary as it really is.
His vitriol was reserved was reserved for “manufactured crises.”
He went on to list progress in “insourcing jobs.”
Shorter Obama: We can manufacture more than crises.
The Climate Change section is much stronger than any language Obama has used since 2008. He said that the combination of Superstorm Sandy and the worst drought in history aren’t freak coincidences.
He promises that if Congress won’t act, he will move to reduce carbon himself.
You probably haven’t noticed but Sarah Palin has hired a new ghost tweeter who is tweeting up a storm tonight with her own homespun hashtag #sotUGottaBeKiddingMe:
— Sarah Palin (@SarahPalinUSA) February 13, 2013
Who needs Fox News?
The scope of what this president has to deal with is so vast.
After calling for more early childhood education and immigration reform section, he launched into a stirring argument for a minimum wage that guarantees that someone who works full-time will not be in poverty.
This is a powerful argument that could ultimately lower health care costs by making fewer Americans eligible for Medicaid because they’re not struggling for sustenance.
Finally he gets to Afghanistan, declaring that we are indeed transitioning out of Afghanistan because the core group that attacked us has been decimated.
The president surprisingly gave a nod to the critics of his drone program, saying that he will consult with Congress on who we target and detain.
The key moment of the president’s speech was the section on gun violence when he used the refrain “They deserve a vote” over and over, summoning the victims of Newtown, Aurora and former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords specifically.
“They deserve a vote.” They deserve more than that. Will they get it from the NRA puppets on the Hill?
— Joe Conason (@JoeConason) February 13, 2013
HEADLINES: Minimum wage, sequester and “We deserve a vote.”