Dallas Morning News
The first State of the Union speech of a president’s second term provides a bold opportunity to shape the country’s future, and to do so without having to cast an eye toward re-election.
Ronald Reagan seized this opportunity to build on landmark tax cuts of his first term with a major revamping of tax policy in his second term. George W. Bush pursued reform of Social Security and immigration policy in his second four years, initiatives that unfortunately withered under partisan attacks.
We’re disappointed that President Barack Obama said little Tuesday night to change the tone of the debate in Washington or to signal his intent to aggressively tackle the nation’s crushing long-term debt. If anything, he doubled down on a combative inaugural address that left little room for bipartisanship with a laundry list of proposals that he vowed would “reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth — a rising, thriving middle class.”
Yes, the country needs to invest in its future and the nation’s prosperity depends on a thriving middle class. But it is all fool’s gold if the nation doesn’t also address a looming fiscal crisis that will squeeze out all other spending choices far sooner than anyone can imagine.
Appealingly, the president announced a drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, proposed high-quality preschool for every child, urged immigration reform and stepped up a call for tougher gun laws. But in calling for major spending on infrastructure, jobs, clean energy and education without also proposing much in the way of serious debt reduction, the president is asking government — and taxpayers — to take on what should fall to the private sector.
Instead of prioritizing pressing needs, the president mostly trotted out the economic formulas he’s trotted out in previous State of the Union speeches. He claimed his plans won’t add “a single dime” to the deficit, but without accompanying specifics, it’s hard to accept the president’s math.
The economy and jobs were uppermost on the minds of most Americans four years ago when the president first took office and remain so today as the economy crawls along. But now, nearly three of four Americans also consider rising debt to be a major threat to economic stability, up sharply from barely one in two in 2009.
Yet, such hard choices of governing seem to be uncomfortable afterthoughts for the president, who gave but cursory mention to the fact that in a divided Congress, coalitions have to be built from the middle out, not from the fringes where gridlock is inevitable.
Too many GOP leaders share this blind spot, as well. Without a credible bipartisan plan to slow the growth of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, additional government spending is another swipe of the federal credit card and a giant step toward a paralyzing debt crisis.
Today, more than three months beyond Election Day, it is time for the president to move past symbolic gestures and face up to the nation’s hard economic reality. It’s time for him to acknowledge that the growth of long-term debt is an albatross that can sink the American dream for future generations.