I’m always late to this party — it’s become a Twitter thing — but as has been my occasional custom, here are a few thoughts about the President’s State of the Union address. Obama should, of course, be judged more by his actions than by what he says, but as with anyone in authority, understanding his thoughts and ideas is helpful.
Arguably, the State of the Union speech is just a big show, and that Obama’s less well-planned statements are more revealing, but I think the speech is worth looking at for two reasons. First, this is Obama at his most considered and prepared, with his whole team participating, so you’re seeing his governing philosophy presented at its best. Second, precisely because it’s been so carefully prepared, this is one speech he can’t back away from.
This is the entire text, taken from the official White House transcript, although I have reformatted it slightly and removed all the notations of when the audience applauded, because that’s the silliest possible way to evaluate this speech.
It begins the customary way.
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:
Last month, I went to Andrews Air Force Base and welcomed home some of our last troops to serve in Iraq. Together, we offered a final, proud salute to the colors under which more than a million of our fellow citizens fought — and several thousand gave their lives.
We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world.
I’m not sure I believe that the United States is more respected by people in other countries because of our wars in the middle east. A lot of people hate us for that. A lot of Americans have lost respect for their country because of those wars.
For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country. Most of al Qaeda’s top lieutenants have been defeated. The Taliban’s momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.
These achievements are a testament to the courage, selflessness and teamwork of America’s Armed Forces. At a time when too many of our institutions have let us down, they exceed all expectations. They’re not consumed with personal ambition. They don’t obsess over their differences. They focus on the mission at hand. They work together.
All very true…but I think we can see where he’s going with this…
Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example.
That’s about what I figured.
Think about the America within our reach: A country that leads the world in educating its people. An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs. A future where we’re in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren’t so tied to unstable parts of the world. An economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded.
This is a neat rhetorical trick. The first half of that paragraph, about education and high-paying jobs, is possible because we’ve been there before, quite recently, and can easily get there again. The third thing on the list, energy independence, is a whole different matter that he’s trying to slip in.
We can do this. I know we can, because we’ve done it before. At the end of World War II, when another generation of heroes returned home from combat, they built the strongest economy and middle class the world has ever known. My grandfather, a veteran of Patton’s Army, got the chance to go to college on the GI Bill. My grandmother, who worked on a bomber assembly line, was part of a workforce that turned out the best products on Earth.
The two of them shared the optimism of a nation that had triumphed over a depression and fascism.
Nice. By starting with the end of the war in Iraq and then mentioning World War II, he’s trying to make us feel like we could be the next Greatest Generation. It’s a reasonable attempt to inspire us during a difficult time. But then Obama turns to policy:
They understood they were part of something larger; that they were contributing to a story of success that every American had a chance to share — the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.
The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive. No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.
Remember “everyone plays by the same set of rules.” He will be making exceptions before this speech is over. Trust me on this.
What’s at stake aren’t Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. And we have to reclaim them.
Let’s remember how we got here. Long before the recession, jobs and manufacturing began leaving our shores. Technology made businesses more efficient, but also made some jobs obsolete. Folks at the top saw their incomes rise like never before, but most hardworking Americans struggled with costs that were growing, paychecks that weren’t, and personal debt that kept piling up.
Actually, we do a heck of a lot of manufacturing in this country — more than ever, if I’m my quick read of the industry statistics is correct — but manufacturing has grown slower than other parts of the economy and therefore represents a smaller share.
In 2008, the house of cards collapsed. We learned that mortgages had been sold to people who couldn’t afford or understand them. Banks had made huge bets and bonuses with other people’s money. Regulators had looked the other way, or didn’t have the authority to stop the bad behavior.
It was wrong. It was irresponsible. And it plunged our economy into a crisis that put millions out of work, saddled us with more debt, and left innocent, hardworking Americans holding the bag. In the six months before I took office, we lost nearly 4 million jobs. And we lost another 4 million before our policies were in full effect.
Those are the facts. But so are these: In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than 3 million jobs.
Sounds like we’re in a recovery. Presidents can certainly have an effect on the economy — the potential for damage, especially, is immense — but the business cycle is the business cycle, and there’s not much that Presidents can do about it. Bush didn’t start this recession, and Obama isn’t ending it.
Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005.
Note that rapid job creation is a normal feature of an economy recovering from a recession, much the way you’ll increse the amount of home repair you do after your house catches fire.
American manufacturers are hiring again, creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s. Together, we’ve agreed to cut the deficit by more than $2 trillion. And we’ve put in place new rules to hold Wall Street accountable, so a crisis like this never happens again.
It’s almost as if he completely made up everything he just said there: He’s only talking about jobs in a cherry-picked sector of the economy, he’s talking about a hypothetical deficit agreement over many years in the future, and the only way a few new rules can prevent a “crisis like this” is if you mean a crisis exactly like this.
The state of our Union is getting stronger.
And we’ve come too far to turn back now. As long as I’m President, I will work with anyone in this chamber to build on this momentum. But I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place.
Shorter version: My policies are good and the people who oppose them are evil weanies who hate doing good things for America. I predict this will be a recurring theme of the speech.
No, we will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits.
Outsourcing doesn’t weaken the economy. It sucks if your job gets outsourced, but it’s a good thing for everyone else because they see prices drop.
Tonight, I want to speak about how we move forward, and lay out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last — an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.
Now, this blueprint begins with American manufacturing.
There are other industial sectors — transportation, retail, science, healthcare, entertainment — Why manufacturing? Why is it always manufacturing? It’s like the way government stimulous packages always go to construction work. It’s going to be a giveaway to political friends.
On the day I took office, our auto industry was on the verge of collapse. Some even said we should let it die. With a million jobs at stake, I refused to let that happen.
Actually, it was only the “big three” auto manufacturers that were on the verge of collapse. Other auto companies in America, such as Toyota, were doing just great, and were poised for expansion into the markets that would be vacated if the big three collapsed.
So I don’t know where he gets that million jobs figure. I mean, yes, if all three automakers went out of business, they and their suppliers might have laid off a million of their employees…who would soon have been hired by whichever auto manufacturers bought up the big three’s assets at fire sale prices in order to fill the never-ending American need for cars. In all likelihood, given the rather effective bankrupcy system we have in this country, the factories would never have stopped working for even a day.
In exchange for help, we demanded responsibility. We got workers and automakers to settle their differences.
That’s a lot easier to do when you’re paying them to settle their differences using someone else’s money.
We got the industry to retool and restructure. Today, General Motors is back on top as the world’s number-one automaker. Chrysler has grown faster in the U.S. than any major car company. Ford is investing billions in U.S. plants and factories. And together, the entire industry added nearly 160,000 jobs.
We bet on American workers. We bet on American ingenuity. And tonight, the American auto industry is back.
But will we ever get to break-even on that bet? Not unless GM stock doubles in price. American taxpayers own a ton of shares. And remember “everyone plays by the same set of rules”? Apparently people working at the big three auto companies get a better set of rules than the rest of us.
What’s happening in Detroit can happen in other industries. It can happen in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Raleigh. We can’t bring every job back that’s left our shore.
But we can create totally new jobs. As long as we don’t waste our money trying to preserve every single old one.
But right now, it’s getting more expensive to do business in places like China. Meanwhile, America is more productive. A few weeks ago, the CEO of Master Lock told me that it now makes business sense for him to bring jobs back home. Today, for the first time in 15 years, Master Lock’s unionized plant in Milwaukee is running at full capacity.
So we have a huge opportunity, at this moment, to bring manufacturing back. But we have to seize it. Tonight, my message to business leaders is simple: Ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to your country, and your country will do everything we can to help you succeed.
We should start with our tax code. Right now, companies get tax breaks for moving jobs and profits overseas. Meanwhile, companies that choose to stay in America get hit with one of the highest tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and everyone knows it. So let’s change it.
By lowering taxes?
First, if you’re a business that wants to outsource jobs, you shouldn’t get a tax deduction for doing it. That money should be used to cover moving expenses for companies like Master Lock that decide to bring jobs home.
I’m not sure what he means by a tax deduction. This article says it has something do with moving expenses, but if those expenses are incurred in America, why shouldn’t they be deductible? Also, as he mentions elsewhere, it’s getting more expensive to do manufacturing in China. I can’t imagine that tweaks to the tax code can possibly do as much to discourage outsourcing as rising labor costs in outsourcing countries.
Second, no American company should be able to avoid paying its fair share of taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas. From now on, every multinational company should have to pay a basic minimum tax. And every penny should go towards lowering taxes for companies that choose to stay here and hire here in America.
Uh, rules like Obama seems to be proposing may affect the legal structures of companies — e.g. a company thinking of opening a foreign factory will instead simply buy from a foreign manufacturer — but they won’t change the fact that if goods can be produced more cheaply in other countries, consumers are going to buy them from other countries.
Third, if you’re an American manufacturer, you should get a bigger tax cut. If you’re a high-tech manufacturer, we should double the tax deduction you get for making your products here. And if you want to relocate in a community that was hit hard when a factory left town, you should get help financing a new plant, equipment, or training for new workers.
Remember “everyone plays by the same set of rules”? Right there Obama just advocated three ways to change the rules so that favored companies do better than companies Obama doesn’t like.
So my message is simple. It is time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America. Send me these tax reforms, and I will sign them right away.
We’re also making it easier for American businesses to sell products all over the world. Two years ago, I set a goal of doubling U.S. exports over five years. With the bipartisan trade agreements we signed into law, we’re on track to meet that goal ahead of schedule. And soon, there will be millions of new customers for American goods in Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. Soon, there will be new cars on the streets of Seoul imported from Detroit, and Toledo, and Chicago.
Got no problem with that…
I will go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American products. And I will not stand by when our competitors don’t play by the rules. We’ve brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate as the last administration — and it’s made a difference. Over a thousand Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in Chinese tires.
And millions of Americans are paying more for tires than if you hadn’t done that. The people who buy the tires are Americans too, you know. Why does Obama love the makers of tires and hate the consumers of tires?
But we need to do more. It’s not right when another country lets our movies, music, and software be pirated.
Agreed, but please don’t just handle this the way the MPAA and RIAA tell you to. Remember, the people who watch movies, listen to music, and run software are Americans too.
It’s not fair when foreign manufacturers have a leg up on ours only because they’re heavily subsidized.
Not it’s not, but it’s the foreign taxpayers who hurt the most. We get to buy their products at lower prices.
Tonight, I’m announcing the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trading practices in countries like China.
So we’re supposed to think that up until now there’s been no one in government who has been monitoring treaty compliance?
There will be more inspections to prevent counterfeit or unsafe goods from crossing our borders. And this Congress should make sure that no foreign company has an advantage over American manufacturing when it comes to accessing financing or new markets like Russia. Our workers are the most productive on Earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you — America will always win.
Keep in mind that International trade is not a competition between countries. Just because an American company loses business to a foreign company, that doesn’t mean that Americans as a whole are worse off.
I also hear from many business leaders who want to hire in the United States but can’t find workers with the right skills. Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job. Think about that — openings at a time when millions of Americans are looking for work. It’s inexcusable. And we know how to fix it.
Now begins the dreadful State of the Union practice of using specific random Americans as speech props:
Jackie Bray is a single mom from North Carolina who was laid off from her job as a mechanic. Then Siemens opened a gas turbine factory in Charlotte, and formed a partnership with Central Piedmont Community College. The company helped the college design courses in laser and robotics training. It paid Jackie’s tuition, then hired her to help operate their plant.
I want every American looking for work to have the same opportunity as Jackie did. Join me in a national commitment to train 2 million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job.
Okay…but it was Siemens who trained Ms. Bray…
My administration has already lined up more companies that want to help. Model partnerships between businesses like Siemens and community colleges in places like Charlotte, and Orlando, and Louisville are up and running. Now you need to give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers — places that teach people skills that businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high-tech manufacturing.
This is going to cost money, right?
And I want to cut through the maze of confusing training programs, so that from now on, people like Jackie have one program, one website, and one place to go for all the information and help that they need. It is time to turn our unemployment system into a reemployment system that puts people to work.
That would have to be a really, really well-run web site. Is there any evidence that (sigh) “people like Jackie” have trouble finding the training programs they need?
These reforms will help people get jobs that are open today. But to prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, our commitment to skills and education has to start earlier.
Warning! Proximity alert! Payoff to teachers’ unions ahead!
For less than 1 percent of what our nation spends on education each year, we’ve convinced nearly every state in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning — the first time that’s happened in a generation.
But challenges remain. And we know how to solve them.
At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced states to lay off thousands of teachers. We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000. A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance. Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives.
(You know, I hear stuff like this all the time but, honestly, I don’t have that one special teacher who changed everything. I had a bunch of good ones, and some who were very entertaining and memorable, but changing my life? Nope.)
Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their own pocket for school supplies — just to make a difference.
Everybody works hard. Get over it.
Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. And in return, grant schools flexibility: to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn. That’s a bargain worth making.
Yeah, but the point of having all these teachers is because it’s good for students, right? So how about granting the students some flexibility by letting them leave bad schools? We know how to do that, too.
We also know that when students don’t walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma. When students are not allowed to drop out, they do better. So tonight, I am proposing that every state — every state — requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.
Just a coincidence that this would require hiring more teachers and therefore enriching the teachers’ unions, right? I told you this was coming.
When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college. At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt, this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July.
Extend the tuition tax credit we started that saves millions of middle-class families thousands of dollars, and give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years.
Remember “everyone plays by the same set of rules”? Sounds like students will be getting a lot of brakes from the rules.
Of course, it’s not enough for us to increase student aid. We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money. States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets. And colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down.
Yes, and throwing more money at them will definitely encourage frugality.
Recently, I spoke with a group of college presidents who’ve done just that. Some schools redesign courses to help students finish more quickly. Some use better technology. The point is, it’s possible. So let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.
Great idea. I fully support this. Let’s start right now. What’s the plan? Where’s the call for legislation?
Higher education can’t be a luxury — it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.
Let’s also remember that hundreds of thousands of talented, hardworking students in this country face another challenge: the fact that they aren’t yet American citizens. Many were brought here as small children, are American through and through, yet they live every day with the threat of deportation. Others came more recently, to study business and science and engineering, but as soon as they get their degree, we send them home to invent new products and create new jobs somewhere else.
That doesn’t make sense.
I agree wholeheartedly.
I believe as strongly as ever that we should take on illegal immigration. That’s why my administration has put more boots on the border than ever before. That’s why there are fewer illegal crossings than when I took office. The opponents of action are out of excuses. We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now.
But if election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, defend this country. Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away.
Great idea. I’m completely in favor of this.
You see, an economy built to last is one where we encourage the talent and ingenuity of every person in this country. That means women should earn equal pay for equal work. It means we should support everyone who’s willing to work, and every risk-taker and entrepreneur who aspires to become the next Steve Jobs.
After all, innovation is what America has always been about. Most new jobs are created in start-ups and small businesses. So let’s pass an agenda that helps them succeed. Tear down regulations that prevent aspiring entrepreneurs from getting the financing to grow. Expand tax relief to small businesses that are raising wages and creating good jobs. Both parties agree on these ideas. So put them in a bill, and get it on my desk this year.
Sounds good, but…devil…details…
Innovation also demands basic research. Today, the discoveries taking place in our federally financed labs and universities could lead to new treatments that kill cancer cells but leave healthy ones untouched. New lightweight vests for cops and soldiers that can stop any bullet. Don’t gut these investments in our budget. Don’t let other countries win the race for the future. Support the same kind of research and innovation that led to the computer chip and the Internet; to new American jobs and new American industries.
And nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made energy. Over the last three years, we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources. Right now — right now — American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years. That’s right — eight years. Not only that — last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years.
But with only 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves, oil isn’t enough. This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy. A strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs.
We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years. And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. And I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use. Because America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.
The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy. And by the way, it was public research dollars, over the course of 30 years, that helped develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock — reminding us that government support is critical in helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground.
Now, what’s true for natural gas is just as true for clean energy. In three years, our partnership with the private sector has already positioned America to be the world’s leading manufacturer of high-tech batteries. Because of federal investments, renewable energy use has nearly doubled, and thousands of Americans have jobs because of it.
Remember “everyone plays by the same set of rules”? It sounds like Obama wants the energy sector of our economy to have much more generous rules than the rest of us get.
When Bryan Ritterby was laid off from his job making furniture, he said he worried that at 55, no one would give him a second chance. But he found work at Energetx, a wind turbine manufacturer in Michigan. Before the recession, the factory only made luxury yachts. Today, it’s hiring workers like Bryan, who said, “I’m proud to be working in the industry of the future.”
Er, the luxury yacht businss employs people too, you know.
Our experience with shale gas, our experience with natural gas, shows us that the payoffs on these public investments don’t always come right away. Some technologies don’t pan out; some companies fail. But I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy. I will not walk away from workers like Bryan. I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here.
Why? What makes Obama think that having the wind and solar industries here is a good idea? What makes him think the “promise of clean energy” is a promise that can be kept? Maybe we should invest our money in some other industries and let China and Germany try out those risky alternative energy sources.
We’ve subsidized oil companies for a century. That’s long enough.
True. Very true. But the solution is not to subsidize a handful of other energy-related industries instead. The solution is to simply not spend the money.
It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that rarely has been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that never has been more promising.
These things are completely unconnected. And if the clean energy industry is promising, capitalists will be thrilled to pour billions of dollars into it.
Pass clean energy tax credits. Create these jobs.
We can also spur energy innovation with new incentives. The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change. But there’s no reason why Congress shouldn’t at least set a clean energy standard that creates a market for innovation.
Uh, so that promise of clean energy you were talking about a few paragraphs ago…people don’t actually want it? You have to force it on them by regulation? Given the externalities of pollution, that may be the right thing to do, but then stop talking about the promise of clean energy and admit that clean energy is an expensive preference.
So far, you haven’t acted. Well, tonight, I will. I’m directing my administration to allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power 3 million homes. And I’m proud to announce that the Department of Defense, working with us, the world’s largest consumer of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history — with the Navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.
Of course, the easiest way to save money is to waste less energy. So here’s a proposal: Help manufacturers eliminate energy waste in their factories and give businesses incentives to upgrade their buildings.
Remember “everyone plays by the same set of rules”? Except that businesses that spend money on energy conservation (installed by more of those lucky construction workers) get to play by better rules.
Their energy bills will be $100 billion lower over the next decade,
— Shouldn’t that be incentive enough? —
and America will have less pollution, more manufacturing, more jobs for construction workers who need them. Send me a bill that creates these jobs.
See, it’s always construction workers!
Building this new energy future should be just one part of a broader agenda to repair America’s infrastructure. So much of America needs to be rebuilt. We’ve got crumbling roads and bridges; a power grid that wastes too much energy; an incomplete high-speed broadband network that prevents a small business owner in rural America from selling her products all over the world.
During the Great Depression, America built the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. After World War II, we connected our states with a system of highways. Democratic and Republican administrations invested in great projects that benefited everybody, from the workers who built them to the businesses that still use them today.
In the next few weeks, I will sign an executive order clearing away the red tape that slows down too many construction projects. But you need to fund these projects. Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.
There’s never been a better time to build, especially since the construction industry was one of the hardest hit when the housing bubble burst. Of course, construction workers weren’t the only ones who were hurt. So were millions of innocent Americans who’ve seen their home values decline. And while government can’t fix the problem on its own, responsible homeowners shouldn’t have to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom to get some relief.
And that’s why I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low rates.
No more red tape. No more runaround from the banks.
Er, Mr. President, yes, uh…do you remember a few years back when the mortgage market collapsed…wasn’t that because banks stopped requiring things like documentation and credit histories? How is the red tape you’re talking about different from that red tape?
A small fee on the largest financial institutions will ensure that it won’t add to the deficit and will give those banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust.
Remember “everyone plays by the same set of rules”? Except that homeowners with crappy mortgages get better rules.
Let’s never forget: Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that do the same. It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom. No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts.
Except, for bailouts and handouts to…let’s see…teachers, homeowners, construction workers, college students, the clean energy industry…
An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody.
We’ve all paid the price for lenders who sold mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them, and buyers who knew they couldn’t afford them. That’s why we need smart regulations to prevent irresponsible behavior. Rules to prevent financial fraud or toxic dumping or faulty medical devices — these don’t destroy the free market. They make the free market work better.
There’s no question that some regulations are outdated, unnecessary, or too costly. In fact, I’ve approved fewer regulations in the first three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his. I’ve ordered every federal agency to eliminate rules that don’t make sense.
God, if only it were that easy.
We’ve already announced over 500 reforms, and just a fraction of them will save business and citizens more than $10 billion over the next five years. We got rid of one rule from 40 years ago that could have forced some dairy farmers to spend $10,000 a year proving that they could contain a spill — because milk was somehow classified as an oil. With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk.
Now, I’m confident a farmer can contain a milk spill without a federal agency looking over his shoulder. Absolutely. But I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago. I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury poisoning, or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean. I will not go back to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny your coverage, or charge women differently than men.
Er, the things in that last sentence are very different from those first few…
And I will not go back to the days when Wall Street was allowed to play by its own set of rules. The new rules we passed restore what should be any financial system’s core purpose: Getting funding to entrepreneurs with the best ideas, and getting loans to responsible families who want to buy a home, or start a business, or send their kids to college.
So if you are a big bank or financial institution, you’re no longer allowed to make risky bets with your customers’ deposits. You’re required to write out a “living will” that details exactly how you’ll pay the bills if you fail — because the rest of us are not bailing you out ever again.
That actually sounds like a great idea. One of the biggest problems during the financial crisis was that there was no way to quickly and efficiently recycle financial firms when they started to fail. Requiring them to have a liquidation plan in place is a pretty good idea.
And if you’re a mortgage lender or a payday lender or a credit card company, the days of signing people up for products they can’t afford with confusing forms and deceptive practices — those days are over. Today, American consumers finally have a watchdog in Richard Cordray with one job: To look out for them.
Because nobody ever thought of regulating consumer finances until just now…
We’ll also establish a Financial Crimes Unit of highly trained investigators to crack down on large-scale fraud and protect people’s investments. Some financial firms violate major anti-fraud laws because there’s no real penalty for being a repeat offender. That’s bad for consumers, and it’s bad for the vast majority of bankers and financial service professionals who do the right thing. So pass legislation that makes the penalties for fraud count.
And tonight, I’m asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorney general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis. This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans.
It will be great if they go after the genuine bad guys in the housing crisis — we don’t need them around to screw things up even more in the future — but I worry that they will find it makes for a better show to go after unpopular businesses than to go after true criminals and psychopaths.
Now, a return to the American values of fair play and shared responsibility will help protect our people and our economy. But it should also guide us as we look to pay down our debt and invest in our future.
Right now, our most immediate priority is stopping a tax hike on 160 million working Americans while the recovery is still fragile. People cannot afford losing $40 out of each paycheck this year. There are plenty of ways to get this done. So let’s agree right here, right now: No side issues. No drama. Pass the payroll tax cut without delay. Let’s get it done.
When it comes to the deficit, we’ve already agreed to more than $2 trillion in cuts and savings. But we need to do more, and that means making choices. Right now, we’re poised to spend nearly $1 trillion more on what was supposed to be a temporary tax break for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. Right now, because of loopholes and shelters in the tax code, a quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households. Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.
Actually some of these so-called loopholes are actually the result of carefully-considered tax policies. They may be wrong, but they aren’t there by accident, and they aren’t special favors.
Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Or do we want to keep our investments in everything else — like education and medical research; a strong military and care for our veterans? Because if we’re serious about paying down our debt, we can’t do both.
The American people know what the right choice is. So do I. As I told the Speaker this summer, I’m prepared to make more reforms that rein in the long-term costs of Medicare and Medicaid, and strengthen Social Security, so long as those programs remain a guarantee of security for seniors.
But in return, we need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes.
Nicely done. And if you could do something about the insider trading…
Tax reform should follow the Buffett Rule. If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes.
And my Republican friend Tom Coburn is right: Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires. In fact, if you’re earning a million dollars a year, you shouldn’t get special tax subsidies or deductions. On the other hand, if you make under $250,000 a year, like 98 percent of American families, your taxes shouldn’t go up. You’re the ones struggling with rising costs and stagnant wages. You’re the ones who need relief.
Remember “everyone plays by the same set of rules”? Except for peopel making more than a million dollars a year, who we’re going to soak on the principle that they won’t get a lot of sympathy.
Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.
Math error: It’s the billionaire’s tax rate that’s lower than his secretary’s. He pays far more in total taxes. I’m sure the President wasn’t trying to mislead anyone.
We don’t begrudge financial success in this country. We admire it. When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it’s not because they envy the rich. It’s because they understand that when I get a tax break I don’t need and the country can’t afford, it either adds to the deficit, or somebody else has to make up the difference — like a senior on a fixed income, or a student trying to get through school, or a family trying to make ends meet.
Does the fact that many rich people did something to earn their money mean nothing?
That’s not right. Americans know that’s not right. They know that this generation’s success is only possible because past generations felt a responsibility to each other, and to the future of their country, and they know our way of life will only endure if we feel that same sense of shared responsibility. That’s how we’ll reduce our deficit. That’s an America built to last.
I don’t actually know that at all. In fact, I’m pretty sure that our fabulous wealth as a nation comes from the fact that we allow people to reap the rewards of their hard work and innovation.
Now, I recognize that people watching tonight have differing views about taxes and debt, energy and health care. But no matter what party they belong to, I bet most Americans are thinking the same thing right about now: Nothing will get done in Washington this year, or next year, or maybe even the year after that, because Washington is broken.
Oh, if only that were true. If only they would leave us alone for a few years…
Can you blame them for feeling a little cynical?
The greatest blow to our confidence in our economy last year didn’t come from events beyond our control. It came from a debate in Washington over whether the United States would pay its bills or not. Who benefited from that fiasco?
I’m with him there. It was spectacularly stupid.
I’ve talked tonight about the deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street. But the divide between this city and the rest of the country is at least as bad — and it seems to get worse every year.
Yes, every year Washington acts more and more like an ancient capital city that pillages everyone within reach.
Some of this has to do with the corrosive influence of money in politics. So together, let’s take some steps to fix that. Send me a bill that bans insider trading by members of Congress; I will sign it tomorrow.
Oh. Okay. Yes. I mentioned this earlier. Great idea.
Let’s limit any elected official from owning stocks in industries they impact. Let’s make sure people who bundle campaign contributions for Congress can’t lobby Congress, and vice versa — an idea that has bipartisan support, at least outside of Washington.
Some of what’s broken has to do with the way Congress does its business these days. A simple majority is no longer enough to get anything — even routine business — passed through the Senate. Neither party has been blameless in these tactics. Now both parties should put an end to it. For starters, I ask the Senate to pass a simple rule that all judicial and public service nominations receive a simple up or down vote within 90 days.
Presidents always say stuff like this when they face opposition. The other side is always full of obstructionists. They’re divisive. They’re keeping things from getting done. It couldn’t possibly be that they find the President’s policies abhorrent.
The executive branch also needs to change. Too often, it’s inefficient, outdated and remote. That’s why I’ve asked this Congress to grant me the authority to consolidate the federal bureaucracy, so that our government is leaner, quicker, and more responsive to the needs of the American people.
Sounds good in theory, but I don’t believe it.
Finally, none of this can happen unless we also lower the temperature in this town. We need to end the notion that the two parties must be locked in a perpetual campaign of mutual destruction; that politics is about clinging to rigid ideologies instead of building consensus around common-sense ideas.
I’m a Democrat. But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.
Also sounds good in theory, but I also don’t believe it.
That’s why my education reform offers more competition, and more control for schools and states.
— but not for parents of students —
That’s why we’re getting rid of regulations that don’t work. That’s why our health care law relies on a reformed private market, not a government program.
Not, you’ll notice, a free market.
On the other hand, even my Republican friends who complain the most about government spending have supported federally financed roads, and clean energy projects, and federal offices for the folks back home.
Sigh. They always go on about the roads.
The point is, we should all want a smarter, more effective government. And while we may not be able to bridge our biggest philosophical differences this year, we can make real progress. With or without this Congress, I will keep taking actions that help the economy grow. But I can do a whole lot more with your help. Because when we act together, there’s nothing the United States of America can’t achieve. That’s the lesson we’ve learned from our actions abroad over the last few years.
Ending the Iraq war has allowed us to strike decisive blows against our enemies. From Pakistan to Yemen, the al Qaeda operatives who remain are scrambling, knowing that they can’t escape the reach of the United States of America.
Yes, your flying killer robots are really impressive.
From this position of strength, we’ve begun to wind down the war in Afghanistan. Ten thousand of our troops have come home. Twenty-three thousand more will leave by the end of this summer. This transition to Afghan lead will continue, and we will build an enduring partnership with Afghanistan, so that it is never again a source of attacks against America.
As the tide of war recedes, a wave of change has washed across the Middle East and North Africa, from Tunis to Cairo; from Sana’a to Tripoli. A year ago, Qaddafi was one of the world’s longest-serving dictators — a murderer with American blood on his hands. Today, he is gone. And in Syria, I have no doubt that the Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change cannot be reversed, and that human dignity cannot be denied.
Right there with you. And maybe as a bonus the Assad regime will also soon discover what it’s like to be beaten to death by angry peasants.
How this incredible transformation will end remains uncertain. But we have a huge stake in the outcome. And while it’s ultimately up to the people of the region to decide their fate, we will advocate for those values that have served our own country so well. We will stand against violence and intimidation. We will stand for the rights and dignity of all human beings — men and women; Christians, Muslims and Jews. We will support policies that lead to strong and stable democracies and open markets, because tyranny is no match for liberty.
“Open markets,” except for clean energy, education, healthcare, home ownership, auto manufacturing…
And we will safeguard America’s own security against those who threaten our citizens, our friends, and our interests. Look at Iran. Through the power of our diplomacy, a world that was once divided about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program now stands as one. The regime is more isolated than ever before; its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions, and as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent.
Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.
But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better, and if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.
The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe. Our oldest alliances in Europe and Asia are stronger than ever. Our ties to the Americas are deeper.
Especially while they’re willing to die by the thousands fighting our stupid War on Drugs.
Our ironclad commitment — and I mean ironclad — to Israel’s security has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history.
We’ve made it clear that America is a Pacific power, and a new beginning in Burma has lit a new hope. From the coalitions we’ve built to secure nuclear materials, to the missions we’ve led against hunger and disease; from the blows we’ve dealt to our enemies, to the enduring power of our moral example, America is back.
Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
Er, aren’t you the guy who was going all China-is-kicking-our-ass-and-Congrees-is-useless just a few minutes ago?
That’s not the message we get from leaders around the world who are eager to work with us. That’s not how people feel from Tokyo to Berlin, from Cape Town to Rio, where opinions of America are higher than they’ve been in years. Yes, the world is changing. No, we can’t control every event. But America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs — and as long as I’m President, I intend to keep it that way.
That’s why, working with our military leaders, I’ve proposed a new defense strategy that ensures we maintain the finest military in the world, while saving nearly half a trillion dollars in our budget. To stay one step ahead of our adversaries, I’ve already sent this Congress legislation that will secure our country from the growing dangers of cyber-threats.
Ruh roh. I’ll have to look into this one. Congress doesn’t have a really good grasp of technological matters.
Above all, our freedom endures because of the men and women in uniform who defend it. As they come home, we must serve them as well as they’ve served us. That includes giving them the care and the benefits they have earned — which is why we’ve increased annual VA spending every year I’ve been President. And it means enlisting our veterans in the work of rebuilding our nation.
With the bipartisan support of this Congress, we’re providing new tax credits to companies that hire vets. Michelle and Jill Biden have worked with American businesses to secure a pledge of 135,000 jobs for veterans and their families. And tonight, I’m proposing a Veterans Jobs Corps that will help our communities hire veterans as cops and firefighters, so that America is as strong as those who defend her.
Remember “everyone plays by the same set of rules”? Yeah, I know, it’s veterans. But it’s still not the same set of rules.
Which brings me back to where I began. Those of us who’ve been sent here to serve can learn a thing or two from the service of our troops. When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; Asian, Latino, Native American; conservative, liberal; rich, poor; gay, straight. When you’re marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails. When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one nation, leaving no one behind.
One of my proudest possessions is the flag that the SEAL Team took with them on the mission to get bin Laden. On it are each of their names. Some may be Democrats. Some may be Republicans. But that doesn’t matter. Just like it didn’t matter that day in the Situation Room, when I sat next to Bob Gates — a man who was George Bush’s defense secretary — and Hillary Clinton — a woman who ran against me for president.
All that mattered that day was the mission. No one thought about politics. No one thought about themselves. One of the young men involved in the raid later told me that he didn’t deserve credit for the mission. It only succeeded, he said, because every single member of that unit did their job — the pilot who landed the helicopter that spun out of control; the translator who kept others from entering the compound; the troops who separated the women and children from the fight; the SEALs who charged up the stairs. More than that, the mission only succeeded because every member of that unit trusted each other — because you can’t charge up those stairs, into darkness and danger, unless you know that there’s somebody behind you, watching your back.
This is the Rudy “9/11” Giuliani school of campaigning.
So it is with America. Each time I look at that flag, I’m reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those 50 stars and those 13 stripes. No one built this country on their own. This nation is great because we built it together. This nation is great because we worked as a team. This nation is great because we get each other’s backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard. As long as we are joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, and our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
Ah, the modern “God bless” closing.