Big government isn’t ‘smarter’
In his State of the Union speech 17 years ago, President Bill Clinton said, “The era of big government is over.”
In his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama said, “It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”
The 1996 proclamation was premature.
The 2013 proclamation sounded reassuring.
Unfortunately, though, President Obama’s “smarter government” pitch doesn’t match his relentlessly “big government” record.
Nor does it match the long list of new spending initiatives that he called for Tuesday night.
Yet the president insisted: “Let me repeat — nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.”
Among those supposedly low-cost “investments”: increased federal funding in early education, solar and wind energy, infrastructure projects, manufacturing “hubs” and medical research.
He also urged Congress to pursue a “market-based solution to climate change” — and warned that if it doesn’t, he will use “executive actions” to “speed up the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”
You don’t have to be a global warming denier to fear the bottom-line consequences of such arbitrary actions in this sluggish economy.
And you shouldn’t have to be a conservative to be wary about the president’s proven big-government impulses.
“A smarter government” would not have run up four straight $1 trillion-plus deficits. Yes, the president inherited an economy in freefall. Yes, last week the Congressional Budget Office projected that this year’s deficit would dip back under that trillion-dollar level.
But when an $845 billion deficit is cause for relief, that’s further evidence of a long-term debt crisis.
On Tuesday night, though, the president touted budget cuts based on an optimistic 10-year plan in which major spending reductions don’t kick in until 2020. He also backed merely “modest” Medicare reforms (without specifying them) — and even hailed his misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as a positive force in holding down health care costs.
The true costs of that massive 2010 legislation, which the president pushed through Congress without a single Republican vote, are only beginning to come due.
The president again noted the work of his own debt commission — despite the fact that he has not followed through on the recommendations it delivered in late 2010.
That bipartisan panel warned: “If the U.S. does not put its house in order, the reckoning will be sure and the devastation severe.”
Resisting fundamental changes to Medicare and Social Security, as President Obama does, will not put our fiscal house in order.
At least the president did set the worthy goal Tuesday night of “a growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs.”
Too bad his big-government economic policies have fallen far short of that target. The jobless rate was a painfully high 7.9 percent in January — and would have been much higher if millions of Americans had not given up on finding work over the last few years.
The president and the Democratic Senate face another budgetary showdown with the Republican House to avoid deep “sequestration” budget cuts on March 1. During the year-ending “fiscal cliff” crisis, the president obtained significant concessions from the GOP House leadership for immediate tax hikes — with spending reductions, as usual, to come somewhere down the line. That pay-later theme could become a staple of his second term.
Meanwhile, America faces serious challenges beyond our still-sluggish economy. North Korea tested a smaller nuclear weapon this week and is advancing toward nuclear-missile capability. Iran keeps advancing toward a nuclear arsenal.
The hopes generated by the “Arab Spring” have largely degenerated into fears about the region’s growing instability — and the ongoing horror of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s mass-murdering tactics against a popular rebellion.
The president again issued warnings to North Korea and Iran on Tuesday night. Let’s hope they have more effect than his past scolding.
Our commander in chief also declared: “In defense of freedom, we will remain the anchor of strong alliances from the Americas to Africa, from Europe to Asia.”
But if defense spending is cut too deeply, that mission will become impossible.
In November, the voters did give President Obama a second term and the Democrats continued control of the Senate.
However, they also gave Republicans continued control of the House.
Though this president has rarely backed up his lip service about “bipartisanship” by moving toward the political middle, with nearly four years left in his second term, he could still kick that uncompromising habit.
And he did begin Tuesday night’s speech by echoing this appropriate line from President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 State of the Union speech:
“The Constitution makes us not rivals for power, but partners for progress.”
Now the president — and Congress — should seek a positive partnership in the search for common ground.
And if we are to avert the economic “devastation” cited by the president’s own debt commission, he must follow through on his pledge for “not a bigger government ... but a smarter government.”