Obama's bold plans deserve action in Congress
The Kansas City Star
In his first State of the Union address since re-election, President Barack Obama packed a bushel of bold promises into an hour-long address to a joint session of Congress, much of it intended to help improve the lives of the middle class.
The “surprises” were few but meaningful to his base, calling for an increase in the minimum wage to $9 an hour and a plan to provide access to universal pre-kindergarten. In addition, he promised families of college-age students needed information about college affordability.
It was heartening to hear Obama reaffirm his commitment to pay equity for women, access to military benefits for gay families, and passage of meaningful immigration reform.
Early in the speech, he urged Congress to avoid the brutal sequestration cuts looming next month that would savage social service programs and deeply cut military spending.
“And let’s do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors,” the president said. “The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next.”
Let’s hope Congress was paying attention.
The president was short on specifics on many of his proposals and he will be hard-pressed to live up to his promise of new programs not adding one dime to government spending overall.
His weakest comments emerged in vague foreign policy statements about Syria, Iran and North Korea.
The announced plan to pull an additional 34,000 troops out of Afghanistan by next year is welcome news, provided the Afghans are capable of maintaining security and repelling efforts to re-establish terrorist strongholds.
Given the rebuttals from Sen. Marco Rubio for the GOP and Rand Paul for the tea party, no one expects the gridlock will be tamed or even much muted by one more speech from the president. But Obama did offer olive branches that deserve more thought from the Republicans.
On deficit reduction, Obama reminded Congress that the work has begun with $2.5 trillion cut already, mostly through spending cuts, “but also by raising tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.”
On Medicare, he said he is prepared to enact reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission, and to go further by reducing taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies and asking more from the richest seniors. That’s a concrete starting point.
In addition, he urged Congress to remove tax loopholes and deductions “for the well-off and well-connected.”
Real tax reform, of course, has been promised many times in recent years.
In the days ahead, Americans will expect to hear more details from both parties about how they intend to heal the economy, avoid the sequestration cuts, and keep the recovery on a forward trajectory.
No doubt the most emotional part of the address came near the end, with the president’s effective pleas for an up or down vote on gun control measures, reminding the nation of many mass tragedies caused by guns in just the last several years.
It’s a good tactic, to force a vote so Americans will know who supports reasonable gun law changes. The families of victims of gun violence “whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence” deserve a vote, Obama urged.
Then he recited a litany of tragedies: families of the victims of Newtown, Aurora, Oak Creek, Tucson and Blacksburg “and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence — they deserve a vote.”
Yes, they do.