One of the responsibilities for the Chief Executive is delineated by Article 2, Section 3 (a): He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient. Televised State of the Union addresses are usually unexcitingly mundane political theatre, and President Obama’s 2014 speech deviated very little from his previous ones or those of other presidents in contemporary modern times. The Republican response afterwards was rather anemic and commentary by syndicated columnist David Brooks and political commentator Marc Shields on the PBS McNeil/Lehrer News Hour didn’t find much substance in the address, either. Mr. Brooks mentioned that it lacked anything dealing with outlining policy, which he found a little disappointing, but that criticism is a usual complaint based mostly on partisan ideology. The thing is, though, the event is not the appropriate forum for policy formulation but rather serves as a national stage for the president to share his assessment on the overall health of the nation and to offer recommendations to Congress for implementation of legislation that will, in the words of the Preamble, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity; as well as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as articulated in the Declaration of Independence.
President Obama is certainly not shy about heaping high praise upon First Lady Michelle Obama and her Let’s Move partnership that has supposedly contributed, based on her example, influence, and advocacy, the reduction of the upward trend in childhood obesity for the first time in 30 years. Additionally, Michelle and Jill Biden launched the Joining Forces Alliance which has been a vehicle to provide incentives for employers to hire and train more than 400,000 veterans and military spouses. I wonder if there is a website or information that can be accessed to find out how these organizations are really performing and the success rate, beyond all the rhetorical spin and fuzzy math. Of course it is to be expected that there would be compelling human interest stories of real, hardworking Americans like teachers, farmers, autoworkers, rural doctors, pizzaria workers, blue collar workers, female single parents, or the child of a non-English speaking factory worker. The most emotional moment was about the life of Army Ranger Sgt. Corey Remsburg, who was severely wounded while on his tenth deployment was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Sounding a note of positivity, president Obama mentioned about the rebounding housing market, rising domestic oil production levels, reduction of the deficit by more than half, and supplanting China as the number one place for business investment dollars. He also took the time to defend the burgeoning size of the federal government. President Obama said the compromise with Congress over the budget should free up time to work toward the creation of new jobs, not create new crises. He referred to the government shutdown which threatened the full faith and credit of the United States [affecting the rating on Treasury bonds in the international financial markets].
Although no specific policy was highlighted, what was introduced were numerous programs and foreign policy strategies; some old some new, such as:
1. The White House just organized a College Opportunity Summit where already, 150 universities, businesses, and nonprofits have made concrete commitments to reduce inequality in access to higher education.
2. Reforming the tax code because complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here; end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs here at home (old news).
3. Create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes – Congress protect more than three million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills .But I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible (old news).
4. High-tech manufacturing in Raleigh, North Carolina and Youngstown, Ohio where we’ve connected businesses to research universities (old news).
5. Bank loans to small business owners (old news).
6. Bi-partisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped “Made in the USA”
7. A patent reform bill that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly, and needless litigation.
8. Businesses plan to invest almost $100 billion in new factories that use natural gas. I’ll cut red tape to help states get those factories built and put folks to work, and this Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas (old news).
9. Environmental protection: strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities. I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations (old news).
10. A smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do (old news).
11. Climate change (old news).
12. Immigration reform (old news).
13. An American Job Center – places where folks can walk in to get the help or training they need to find a new job, or better job.
14. Vice-President Biden to lead an across-the-board reform of America’s training programs to make sure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now.
15. Reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy. But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people (old news).
16. We worked with lenders to reform student loans. We’re offering millions the opportunity to cap their monthly student loan payments to ten percent of their income, and I want to work with Congress to see how we can help even more Americans who feel trapped by student loan debt (old news).
17. I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every four year-old. Race to the Top, guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education. So just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year, we’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children. And as Congress decides what it’s going to do, I’m going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need (old news).
18. Last year, I also pledged to connect 99 percent of our students to high-speed broadband over the next four years. Tonight, I can announce that with the support of the FCC and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon, we’ve got a down payment to start connecting more than 15,000 schools and twenty million students over the next two years, without adding a dime to the deficit.
19. We’re working to redesign high schools and partner them with colleges and employers that offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career (old news).
20. And I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.
NOTE: This was quite unexpected and the quietude in the Chamber was so deafening that you could hear a pin drop a midst the astonished crowd; along with the multitude of hushed whispers. NO APPLAUSE FOR THIS CAUSE.
21. Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode (old news).
NOTE: I think this is the first time that a State of the Union speech referenced a series on HBO.
22. Lifting the minimum wage to $10.10; it’s easy to remember-ten ten.
23. Let’s do more to help Americans save for retirement. I will direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: MyRA. It’s a new savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest egg. MyRA guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in.
24. And because of the Affordable Care Act” more than three million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents’ plans. More than nine million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage. And here’s another number: zero. Because of this law, no American, none, zero, can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, back pain, or cancer. And we did all this while adding years to Medicare’s finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat, and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors (old news).
25. Citizenship means standing up for everyone’s right to vote. Last year, part of the Voting Rights Act was weakened. But conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats are working together to strengthen it; and the bipartisan commission I appointed, chaired by my campaign lawyer and Governor Romney’s campaign lawyer, came together and have offered reforms so that no one has to wait more than a half hour to vote (old news).
NOTE: The political commentators and pundits punted on this one, too (no pun intended).
26. Citizenship means standing up for the lives that “gun violence” steals from us each day. I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say “we are not afraid,” and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook (old news).
FOREIGN SECURITY/NATIONAL SECURITY:
27. And I know this chamber agrees that few Americans give more to their country than our diplomats [Benghazi consulate in Libya] and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces (old news).
28. After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future. If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces, and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al Qaeda (old news).
29. While we have put al Qaeda’s core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved, as al Qaeda affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world. In Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable these networks (old news).
30. In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks. Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses, and combat (old news).
31. New threats like cyber-attacks (old news).
32. The prudent limits on the use of drones (old news; foreign/domestic??).
33. I will reform our surveillance programs – because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated (old news).
34. This needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay (old news).
35. American diplomacy has rallied more than fifty countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles (old news).
36. Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated, and we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve – a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear (old news).
37. American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the State of Israel – a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side (old news).
38. Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium [sanctions??]. It is not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify, every day, that Iran is not building a bomb.
39. Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies (old news).
40. Our alliance with Europe remains the strongest the world has ever known.
NOTE: Is this statement overlooking the NSA documents about U.S. spying on their allies, thanks to Eric Snowden?
41. From Tunisia to Burma, we’re supporting those who are willing to do the hard work of building democracy. In Ukraine, we stand for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully, and have a say in their country’s future. Across Africa, we’re bringing together businesses and governments to double access to electricity and help end extreme poverty. In the [South] Americas, we are building new ties of commerce, but we’re also expanding cultural and educational exchanges among young people. And we will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific [containment/restraining China], where we support our allies, shape a future of greater security and prosperity, and extend a hand to those devastated by disaster (old news).
42. As this time of war draws to a close, a new generation of heroes returns to civilian life. We’ll keep slashing that backlog so our veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned, and our wounded warriors receive the health care – including the mental health care – that they need. We’ll keep working to help all our veterans translate their skills and leadership into jobs here at home. And we all continue to join forces to honor and support our remarkable military families (old news).
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January 30, 2014