As expected, President Obama focused primarily on the economy in his State of the Union speech. The overwhelming theme of the night was help for the middle class. By proposing fixes to the economy and renewing his push for health care reform, the Obama administration hopes to help the middle class. Other details of the speech focused on America’s competition in the 21st century as well as domestic and international safety.
Obama described the U.S. economic situation by saying, “the worst of the storm has passed, but the devastation has remained.” He acknowledged the country’s 10 percent unemployment rate, skyrocketing spending, and deficit which increased by $1 trillion due to the stimulus package.
However, Obama also explained the results of what he called the “necessary” steps to avoiding depression. Two million Americans have work due to the Recovery Act, and 1.5 million more will by 2010’s end. He committed $30 billion to small businesses and vowed to protect against the political ideology which led to the greatest deficit and highest spending in American history.
Many of the jobs Obama described fit into the clean energy economy. He encouraged congressional members to pass a clean energy bill which would facilitate safe, clean nuclear power plants, clean-coal research, increased biofuel usage, solar power and wind power.
In a bid to congressional Republicans, Obama also promised to freeze discretionary spending starting the year 2011. Programs not included by this planned freeze are social security, medicare, medicaid and defense spending.
Domestic and International Safety
The majority of Obama’s address focused on domestic problems, but he glossed over security as well. He called for better airline security (an obvious response to the failed bombing attempt in December) and cited the fact that hundreds of Al Qaeda operatives were killed or captured in 2009.
While Obama acknowledged the instability in Iraq and Afghanistan, he promised to withdraw troops from Iraq by the end of August.
The most troubled sector of America’s education system are secondary schools. Scores of high shool students across the country pale in comparison to those from international competitors like South Korea and China. The 2011 budget will include $1.35 billion to continue the Race to the Top program.
Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, called America’s higher education system “the best in the world” but lamented the thinning funding for public universities. This rising cost of college hurts American families, and the Obama administration will limit a borrower’s payments to 10 percent of his/her income. The American Graduation Initiative will invest $10 billion to reform community colleges and other higher education institutions.
In the same vein as education, Obama compared the U.S. to other prosperous nations abroad. He explained that Germany, China, and India are not waiting for the U.S. and are using stimulus packages to rebuild their infrastructures. He pushed for the same in America, saying “I do not accept second place for America.” The areas in which he felt the U.S. needed to act swiftly in order to compete are transportation, education and job creation.
Obama promised a repeal to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the law which disallows gay servicemen and women from enlisting in or working for the US army. The law, originally passed under Clinton, discriminated against openly homosexual soldiers. Obama said he wanted to repeal the law which “denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.