Wednesday, 13 February, 2013

2013 State of the Union Address Summary

On Tuesday, February 12, 2013, President Obama delivered the first State of the Union (SOTU) address of his second term; he outlined an economic plan to strengthen the middle class and placing a familiar emphasis on investments in manufacturing, clean energy, infrastructure, and education while also addressing the federal deficit.

The President pointed to what he considers to be notable successes: the numbers of U.S. soldiers brought home from wars abroad; the creation of six million new jobs; decreased dependency on foreign oil; and a healing housing market.  With an optimistic outlook, the President highlighted significant economic gains, but noted the great deal of work yet to be done to support the “healing” but persistent troubles in the country’s employment and wage rates, calling on Congress to move forward on efforts that “reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class.”

The President declared that the first step in bolstering the economy is to make “basic decisions about our budget—decisions that will have a huge impact on the strength of our recovery.”  Calling for the need to “forge reasonable compromise,” he asked Congress to work with him to find the additional $4 trillion in deficit reductions necessary to stabilize U.S. finances and avert sequestration.  He also asked that Congress not allow domestic education and job training programs to bear the burden of deficit reduction efforts, as it would under the provisions of the pending sequestration.  Alternatively, the President urged Congress to close tax loopholes and deductions for the “well-off” and the “well-connected” in conjunction with overhauling the tax code and to take on specific entitlement reforms.

Asserting, “Deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan,” the President outlined other proposals that build a “smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth” in order to fix the deficit and strengthen the middle class.  These initiatives include investments in U.S. manufacturing, energy and infrastructure so the country’s businesses can compete successfully in the global economy.  Serving as the foundation for the big ideas that will spur innovation, advance alternative energy opportunities, and ultimately bolster manufacturing jobs, the President called for increased investments in research and development, asserting that such investments yield significant returns.

He added that to fill these jobs, citizens must be equipped with the needed skills and training.  The development of such skills must start in the early years, claimed the President, who made the case for the federal government to begin working with states to make “high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.”   In addition to focusing on the early years, ensuring students graduate high school prepared for college and a career must continue to be a high priority for the nation.  Citing Germany’s focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from a U.S. community college, he proposed that such results be the future of education in this nation.  In order to accomplish this objective, the President announced a new challenge that would “redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. And we’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math.”

Continuing up the education ladder, the President addressed the rising costs of higher education asking Congress to amend the Higher Education Act (HEA) so that affordability and value are considered when determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid.  Additionally, he announced that the Administration would soon release its proposed “College Scorecard” that will allow parents and students to compare colleges and determine the value of varying schools and programs.

Turning to a topic that is a priority for both Republicans and Democrats, the President called for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and bring a bill to his desk for signature.  This bill should continue to strengthen the nation’s borders, crack down on companies that hire undocumented workers, establish a path to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and streamline the legal immigration system to attract skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will create jobs and grow the economy, he declared.  This portion of the address prompted a standing ovation from both political parties—a rarity during the President’s remarks.

Obama also proposed raising the minimum wage to $9 dollars per hour and closing the gender pay gap, calling on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year.

As has been remarked by pundits, the emotional portions of the address came at the end of the evening.  In the final moments, the President focused on citizens affected by gun violence, and he pointed to the two dozen Americans present in the gallery whose lives have been affected by gun violence. The President aggressively pushed Congress to vote on the proposals his Administration unveiled earlier this year regarding gun safety, saying repeatedly, “They deserve a vote.”

In his closing remarks, he once again pled for unity in policymaking, saying, “As Americans, we all share the same proud title –we are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations, that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others, and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter of our American story.”

Republican Response

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio was chosen by the Republican Party to compare and contrast the ideals and ideals of his party with President Obama’s proposals.   Senator Rubio challenged the President’s ideas for strengthening the middle class, arguing that the answer to alleviating the burdens on the working class is not through more taxes and spending, but by supporting a free enterprise system.  He said, “The idea that more taxes and more government spending is the best way to help hardworking middle class taxpayers – that’s an old idea that’s failed every time it’s been tried.”

Rubio touched on immigration reform, education and entitlement programs, applying the common goal of fostering accelerated economic growth, and minimizing tax burdens to each policy area.  Overall, Rubio requested the president “abandon his obsession with raising taxes” and instead focus on economic growth.  “Raising taxes won’t create private sector jobs. And there’s no realistic tax increase that could lower our deficits by almost $4 trillion.”

Conclusion

While the SOTU Address typically signals the forthcoming release of the President’s budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, given the uncertainty with the looming sequester and the incomplete budget for FY2013- the current fiscal year- the release of the Administration’s FY 2014 budget request has been delayed.  Mid-late March is when education advocates expect to see the plan.

The text of the President’s address is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/state-of-the-union-2013. The Department of Education has a blog post highlighting the education portions of the speech at http://www.ed.gov/blog/2013/02/in-state-of-the-union-obama-outlines-bold-education-proposals-to-grow-the-middle-class/.

The President will participate in a Fireside Hangout Thursday, February 14 at 4:50 pm EST. To watch, visit: www.youtube.com/whitehouse.

 

Prepared by for Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education by Washington Partners, LLC:

Della Cronin (dcronin@wpllc.net)
Audrey Busch (abusch@wpllc.net)
Laura Kline (lkline@wpllc.net)

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