State of the Union: Jobs key focus of Obama’s speech
Online Staff Report
Putting America back to work in the wake of the Iraq War was a major focus of President Barack Obama’s Jan. 24 State of the Union address.
In making his case for a post-Iraq War economy, Obama drew a connection to the post-World War II period. Also referred to as the “Golden Age of Capitalism,” the post-World War II period saw worldwide economic growth with high employment.
As explained by Wikipedia: “The period from the end of World War II to the early 1970s was a golden era of American capitalism. $200 billion in war bonds matured, and the G.I. Bill financed a well-educated work force. The middle class swelled, as did GDP and productivity. The U.S. underwent its own golden age of economic growth. This growth was distributed fairly evenly across the economic classes, which some attribute to the strength of labor unions in this period — labor union membership peaked during the 1950s. Much of the growth came from the movement of low-income farm workers into better-paying jobs in the towns and cities — a process largely completed by 1960.”
Obama said during his State of the Union address: “We can do this. I know we can, because we’ve done it before. At the end of World War II, when another generation of heroes returned home from combat, they built the strongest economy and middle class the world has ever known. …
“We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules,” Obama added.
During his speech, Obama touched on al Qaeda and the assassination of Osama bin Laden; the auto industry; increasing exports; unfair trading practices; retooling the workforce; education; immigration; energy; infrastructure; the housing market; banks and the financial industry; tax reform; campaign finance and ethics; the dysfunction in Congress; Afghanistan; Iran; veterans’ affairs; and the politics of Washington, D.C. Excerpts from Obama’s speech about each of these topics follows in the order in which he presented them.
“For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country. Most of al Qaeda’s top lieutenants have been defeated. The Taliban’s momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.”
“In the six months before I took office, we lost nearly 4 million jobs. And we lost another 4 million before our policies were in full effect.
“Those are the facts. But so are these: In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than 3 million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005.”
“On the day I took office, our auto industry was on the verge of collapse. Some even said we should let it die. With a million jobs at stake, I refused to let that happen. In exchange for help, we demanded responsibility. We got workers and automakers to settle their differences. We got the industry to retool and restructure. Today, General Motors is back on top as the world’s No. 1 automaker. Chrysler has grown faster in the U.S. than any major car company. Ford is investing billions in U.S. plants and factories. And together, the entire industry added nearly 160,000 jobs.
“We bet on American workers. We bet on American ingenuity. And tonight, the American auto industry is back.
“What’s happening in Detroit can happen in other industries.”
KEEPING JOBS IN THE U.S.
“Tonight, my message to business leaders is simple: Ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to your country, and your country will do everything we can to help you succeed.
“We should start with our tax code. Right now, companies get tax breaks for moving jobs and profits overseas. Meanwhile, companies that choose to stay in America get hit with one of the highest tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and everyone knows it. So let’s change it.
“First, if you’re a business that wants to outsource jobs, you shouldn’t get a tax deduction for doing it. That money should be used to cover moving expenses for companies like Master Lock that decide to bring jobs home.
“Second, no American company should be able to avoid paying its fair share of taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas. From now on, every multinational company should have to pay a basic minimum tax. And every penny should go towards lowering taxes for companies that choose to stay here and hire here in America.
“Third, if you’re an American manufacturer, you should get a bigger tax cut. If you’re a high-tech manufacturer, we should double the tax deduction you get for making your products here. And if you want to relocate in a community that was hit hard when a factory left town, you should get help financing a new plant, equipment or training for new workers.”
“Two years ago, I set a goal of doubling U.S. exports over five years. With the bipartisan trade agreements we signed into law, we’re on track to meet that goal ahead of schedule.”
UNFAIR TRADING PRACTICES
“Tonight, I’m announcing the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trading practices in countries like China. There will be more inspections to prevent counterfeit or unsafe goods from crossing our borders.”
RETOOLING THE WORKFORCE
“Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job. Think about that — openings at a time when millions of Americans are looking for work. It’s inexcusable. …
“Join me in a national commitment to train 2 million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job. … Model partnerships between businesses like Siemens and community colleges in places like Charlotte, and Orlando, and Louisville are up and running. Now you need to give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers — places that teach people skills that businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high-tech manufacturing.”
“Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. And in return, grant schools flexibility: to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn. That’s a bargain worth making. …
“When students are not allowed to drop out, they do better. So tonight, I am proposing that every state — every state — requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.
“When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college. At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt, this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July.
“Extend the tuition tax credit we started that saves millions of middle-class families thousands of dollars, and give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years. …
“States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets. And colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down. …
“So let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down. Higher education can’t be a luxury — it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.
“I believe as strongly as ever that we should take on illegal immigration. That’s why my administration has put more boots on the border than ever before. That’s why there are fewer illegal crossings than when I took office. The opponents of action are out of excuses. We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now.
“But if election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, defend this country. Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away.”
“Over the last three years, we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources. Right now — right now — American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years. That’s right — eight years. Not only that — last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years. …
“This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy. A strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper and full of new jobs.
“We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years. And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. …
“We’ve subsidized oil companies for a century. That’s long enough. It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that rarely has been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that never has been more promising. Pass clean energy tax credits. Create these jobs.
“We can also spur energy innovation with new incentives. The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change. But there’s no reason why Congress shouldn’t at least set a clean energy standard that creates a market for innovation. So far, you haven’t acted. Well, tonight, I will. I’m directing my administration to allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power 3 million homes. And I’m proud to announce that the Department of Defense, working with us, the world’s largest consumer of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history — with the Navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.
“Of course, the easiest way to save money is to waste less energy. So here’s a proposal: Help manufacturers eliminate energy waste in their factories and give businesses incentives to upgrade their buildings. Their energy bills will be $100 billion lower over the next decade, and America will have less pollution, more manufacturing, more jobs for construction workers who need them. Send me a bill that creates these jobs.”
“In the next few weeks, I will sign an executive order clearing away the red tape that slows down too many construction projects. But you need to fund these projects. Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.”
“I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low rates. … A small fee on the largest financial institutions will ensure that it won’t add to the deficit and will give those banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust. …
“And tonight, I’m asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorney general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis. This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans.”
BANKS AND FINANCIAL INDUSTRY
“So, if you are a big bank or financial institution, you’re no longer allowed to make risky bets with your customers’ deposits. You’re required to write out a ‘living will’ that details exactly how you’ll pay the bills if you fail — because the rest of us are not bailing you out ever again. And if you’re a mortgage lender or a payday lender or a credit card company, the days of signing people up for products they can’t afford with confusing forms and deceptive practices — those days are over. Today, American consumers finally have a watchdog in Richard Cordray [director of the United States Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] with one job: To look out for them.”
“Right now, our most immediate priority is stopping a tax hike on 160 million working Americans while the recovery is still fragile. … Pass the payroll tax cut without delay.”
“Tax reform should follow the Buffett Rule. If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes. And my Republican friend Tom Coburn is right: Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires. In fact, if you’re earning a million dollars a year, you shouldn’t get special tax subsidies or deductions. On the other hand, if you make under $250,000 a year, like 98 percent of American families, your taxes shouldn’t go up.”
CAMPAIGN FINANCE & ETHICS
“Some of this has to do with the corrosive influence of money in politics. So together, let’s take some steps to fix that. Send me a bill that bans insider trading by members of Congress; I will sign it tomorrow. Let’s limit any elected official from owning stocks in industries they impact. Let’s make sure people who bundle campaign contributions for Congress can’t lobby Congress, and vice versa — an idea that has bipartisan support, at least outside of Washington.”
“Some of what’s broken has to do with the way Congress does its business these days. A simple majority is no longer enough to get anything — even routine business — passed through the Senate. Neither party has been blameless in these tactics. Now, both parties should put an end to it. For starters, I ask the Senate to pass a simple rule that all judicial and public service nominations receive a simple up or down vote within 90 days.”
“[W]e’ve begun to wind down the war in Afghanistan. Ten thousand of our troops have come home. Twenty-three thousand more will leave by the end of this summer. This transition to Afghan lead will continue, and we will build an enduring partnership with Afghanistan, so that it is never again a source of attacks against America.”
“Through the power of our diplomacy, a world that was once divided about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program now stands as one. The regime is more isolated than ever before; its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions, and as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent.
“Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.
“But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better, and if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.”
“With the bipartisan support of this Congress, we’re providing new tax credits to companies that hire vets. Michelle [Obama] and Jill Biden have worked with American businesses to secure a pledge of 135,000 jobs for veterans and their families. And tonight, I’m proposing a Veterans Jobs Corps that will help our communities hire veterans as cops and firefighters, so that America is as strong as those who defend her.”
POLITICS OF WASHINGTON
“One of my proudest possessions is the flag that the SEAL Team took with them on the mission to get bin Laden. On it are each of their names. Some may be Democrats. Some may be Republicans. But that doesn’t matter. Just like it didn’t matter that day in the Situation Room, when I sat next to Bob Gates — a man who was George Bush’s defense secretary — and Hillary Clinton — a woman who ran against me for president.
“All that mattered that day was the mission. No one thought about politics. No one thought about themselves.”
U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo responds
In response to the president’s State of the Union address, U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo, R-Ill., issued the following statement: “If the president is serious about wanting to help our employers put Americans back to work, he must stop talking about the two things that will keep Americans on the unemployment lines and extend our difficult times — tax increases and excessive government regulations. Employers are not going to create jobs when they could face huge tax increases and unnecessary regulatory burdens in the near future. We need to reduce the cost of doing business in this country and help make our employers more competitive so they can expand and create jobs. My American Jobs Agenda offers solutions that would put our great nation back on the path to prosperity.
“The president also needs to get serious about cutting wasteful Washington spending and shrinking the size of government so we can strengthen our economy and give our employers the confidence they need to invest in their businesses,” Manzullo added. “Today marks the 1,000th day the Senate has gone without passing a budget. That’s unacceptable. I strongly encourage the president and Senate Democratic leaders to take a look at a budget I supported last year — the Republican Study Committee budget — that would have cut $9.1 trillion over the next 10 years while strengthening Social Security, saving Medicare, reforming the tax code, and balancing the budget in nine years. It’s time for Washington to start living within its means and end the massive borrowing from China and other countries that is saddling future generations of Americans with massive debt.”