President Barack Obama’s delivered his annual State of the Union address last night in the nation’s capital, stressing the importance of bipartisanship particularly in regard to issues of fiscal and economic policy.
Among the topics Obama addressed was education reform which he said is a factor in encouraging more diversified job creation and re-establishing the country as a global force. He also focused on the growth of technology and sustainable initiatives, calling this effort “our generation’s Sputnik moment.”
In his speech, Obama said that since Republicans now hold a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the two chambers of Congress must make an effort to work together to solve national issues rather than get caught up in partisan bickering that has plagued past split Congresses.
“With their votes, the American people determined that governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties,” Obama said. “New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans. We will move forward together, or not at all, for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.”
Michael Traugott, a University professor of communication studies and research professor at the University’s Institute for Social Research, said in an interview last night that he found the speech to be “particularly low key.” Obama didn’t go into detail about many issues, Traugott said, leaving little for the House Republicans to be discontented with.
“I don’t think that he wanted to strike a belligerent tone, he wanted to strike an accommodating tone,” Traugott said. “And so by being relatively vague rather than quite specific, he provided very few targets for the Republicans to attack.”
In his address, Obama also stressed that his re-election endeavor isn’t the most pressing issue for his administration in the coming year, but rather, it is ensuring the continual growth of the national economy and job development.
“At stake right now is not who wins the next election,” Obama said. “After all, we just had an election. At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else. It’s whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded. It’s whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but a light to the world.”
Obama continued by saying that the economy has demonstrated growth since he took office and that it is in a position to keep climbing, particularly through strengthening national programs in areas like education.
“We are poised for progress,” Obama said. “Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.”
As part of his efforts to reduce the national deficit as well as appeal to both sides of the aisle, Obama proposed a domestic spending freeze over the next five years that would reduce the national deficit by by more than $400 billion.
In a statement released following Obama’s speech, U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.) lauded Obama’s initiative to consolidate areas of federal government and make “precise and rational spending cuts.” However, Dingell wrote that a total freeze on domestic spending fails to deal with more specific fiscal issues.
“I personally think a budget freeze would be an inefficient and arbitrary way to deal with the problem; it would not take into consideration specific problems and issues that we face today,” Dingell wrote. “Nonetheless, I stand ready to work with my colleagues and the President to find responsible and effective ways to trim the budget.”
Despite the freeze on domestic funding, Traugott said he thinks Obama will still make concessions on federal funding for universities to continue the administration’s priority on research.
Traugott said he expects Obama will also extend such initiatives to global sustainability and the advancement of information technology careers — sectors that Obama discussed in his speech and that have prominent programs at the University.
“I think that this is all part of his proposal to expand the knowledge-based economy and also the new forms of technology to replace rustbelt manufacturing,” Traugott said. “I think that he has a good chance of succeeding with this, and I think the University would benefit ultimately from this.”
Obama’s focus on “Race to the Top” initiatives to regain America’s position as a frontrunner in education is validated, Traugott said. But it is also complicated since education is often an issue best dealt with at the local and state level, which has been particularly difficult to sustain amid tight budgets in many states, Traugott said.
“I don’t think there’s any question that we need a better educated, highly educated workforce,” Traugott said. “It’s a complicated issue because generally primary and secondary education are funded by local property taxes, and when you go into a recession and there’s a downturn in the economy, the tax revenues dry up. So they’re trying to find a way for the federal government to help in an area where state and local government has primary responsibility.”
LSA junior Brendan Campbell, chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said in an interview last night that he thought Obama’s speech was “an effective and passionate call for bipartisanship” that reflected the president’s progress over the past two years.
“I hope that in the next two years Republicans in Congress will heed (Obama’s) call and work with him to continue moving this country forward,” Campbell said.
As for the domestic spending freeze, Campbell said that while this will be difficult for the Democratic Party to accept, it is essential for easing the national debt.
“While difficult, his plan for freezing spending over the next five years will prove to be an important part of putting the country back on track, and making sure that our deficit does not continue to grow out of control,” Campbell said.
LSA junior Charles Bogren, chair of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said that though Obama’s speech was strong in promoting bipartisanship, the president failed to fully address key issues facing the nation.
“I think that just as President Obama spoke primarily about economic issues, most of us Republicans are really looking toward how he’s going to handle the next year with regards to health care and with the corporate taxes that he’s talking about,” Bogren said.
While Obama’s rhetoric may be encouraging bipartisan efforts, Bogren said, Obama is also using the Democratic-controlled Senate as a means of blocking legislation that is important to the nation.
“I think one thing you’re going to have to watch out for is the idea that the president really can have his majority in the Senate be the buffer between what is basically best for America and what the liberals and the Democratic Party wants,” Bogren said.