Some speech highlights, accompanied by commentary from yours truly...
By the time I took office, we had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. That was before I walked in the door.While I understand the American people aren't always thrilled with the truth, President Obama needed to reiterate this fact last night. The mountainous mess he inherited from the previous administration is going to take years, if not a decade, to clean up. Recovery from the Great Recession will be long and very slow. But we will only recover if we follow this man's lead; and Americans need to be reminded of that daily, lest they head to the polls in November and hand congress back to the Republicans. It was, after all, decades worth of Republican policies that brought us to this perilous place: 20 of the last 29 years saw Republican presidents in the White House; 18 of the last 29 years saw a Republican Senate; and in the eight years of the George W. Bush administration, all fiscal responsibility was thrown out the window, bringing our economy to the boiling point. Had it not been for the election of Barack Obama and the resulting policies he instituted, the United States would be smack dab in the middle of another great depression.
[We] passed 25 different tax cuts.That's right...the President of the United States called out the Fascist-Republicans and their tea bagging enablers for their unpatriotic lies and deceit. One glance at your paycheck stub from September 2008 and a glance at your check stub today will show the federal income tax rate remains the same. In fact in many cases the rate went down for some Americans.
Let me repeat: we cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95% of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time home buyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college. As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas, and food, and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers. And we haven't raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person. Not a single dime.
From the day I took office, I have been told that addressing our larger challenges is too ambitious - that such efforts would be too contentious, that our political system is too gridlocked, and that we should just put things on hold for awhile.Directed at both parties in both houses of congress, this statement exemplifies why the United States is fast becoming a second-rate country. Rather than work toward shoring up a quickly crumbling nation, members of congress simply ignore the tough problems or pass half measures, afraid they might lose their seat if they do something too bold. Believe it or not, Americans like bold. Even if they disagree with a policy proposal, most Americans respect lawmakers who step up to the plate. As it is, the future our children will inherit looks pretty grim. And that is because our lawmakers have spent the last 30 years doing nothing of substance, failing at every turn to step up to the plate. It's pathetic, really.
For those who make these claims, I have one simple question:
How long should we wait? How long should America put its future on hold?
I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics. I know it's an election year. And after last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern. To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions.In my view the Democrats need to replace Harry Reid as Senate Majority Leader. He is a hapless cuckold rooster of a man, and I blame him - not the President - for the absolute gridlock that has taken place in Washington this past year. When you can't get anything passed with a 58 to 60 seat majority, then you are not a leader. Give the job to Dick Durbin of Illinois, and my hunch is bills will fly through the Senate and to the President's desk for signature.
I'm proposing that we take $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat. I am also proposing a new small business tax credit - one that will go to over one million small businesses who hire new workers or raise wages. While we're at it, let's also eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment; and provide a tax incentive for all businesses, large and small, to invest in new plants and equipment.Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and I think our unemployment rate would be greatly helped if we gave the owners of those businesses all the help the federal government can muster. This is a decent step, but I would go further and give businesses with under 50 employees a 100% tax break through 2015.
Next, we can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow. From the first railroads to the interstate highway system, our nation has always been built to compete. There's no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products.If we can't do this and and do it fast we will definitely become a second-rate nation. The political pressure against such expenditures boggles the mind. That we are decades behind China and Europe in keeping our infrastructure upgraded must have President Dwight Eisenhower rolling over in his grave.
I urge the Senate to follow the House and pass a bill that will revitalize our community colleges, which are a career pathway to the children of so many working families. To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer-subsidies that go to banks for student loans. Instead, let's take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants. And let's tell another one million students that when they graduate, they will be required to pay only ten percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt will be forgiven after twenty years - and forgiven after ten years if they choose a career in public service.Increasing education standards has to be our great national project over the next decade. Too many kids aren't finishing high school, and those that do finish graduate only because sub-par teachers pass them with sub-par grades. The President's call for college tax credits and loan forgiveness are a tremendous step in the right direction. I would be a bit more specific about the loan forgiveness policy by reducing their loans by 50% PLUS giving them a 10 year window to pay them back if these college students spend the first two to five years after graduation teaching, with stronger benefits going to those who teach science and math.
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.Typical boiler plate stuff. My understanding of Don't Ask, Don't Tell is that it can only be overturned by congress. But too many men and women are being kicked out of the armed forces over this. It boggles the mind why such an archaic, insane policy is still in place at a time when our military needs every able bodied American. Thus, I expect the President to work with congress to get this done - once and for all. If he doesn't take an active roll in overturning this policy, the last two years of his first term will be dead to the LGBT community. And for crying out loud, Mr. President...tell your Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act. I understand they can't fight against it, but there is no reason they can't just remain silent.
We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don't quit. I don't quit. Let's seize this moment - to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.Amen, Mr. President!
Overall the President's speech was a solid home run. The rhetoric was dazzling, to be sure, and he was confident and easy-going; but, what struck me most (and I believe what struck most Americans) was his seriousness and his realism. He was the only grown-up in that House chamber last night. He called the Senate on their cynical bullshit and challenged both houses of congress to get their heads out of their asses and get to work. Because when it comes right down to it, it is congress who has failed this past year. The President took some wrong turns as well, but the House and the Senate (especially the Senate) have been paralyzed in a year when we needed them be working on all cylinders.