The State of the Union That Wasn’t
- 29 January 2011 by Author 0 Comments
The State of the Union That Wasn’t
By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, 01/30/11
For those of us who were hoping for an actual analysis of the condition of our country from the perfunctory State of the Union address Tuesday night came away sorely disappointed. Rather than a factual accounting of where we are as a nation, we were treated to the opening salvo of the 2012 presidential race: we got a campaign speech.
There were some references to some of the problems facing the nation but, as has been his wont, Obama’s answer was for more “investment,” to be understood as “more spending.” Government spending is not the panacea for all that ails the country, as we’ve seen firsthand over the past few years as government spending, to be read as “robbing from Peter to pay Paul,” in reality exacerbates our problems, rather than providing solutions for them. And as George Bernard Shaw once said, “A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend upon the support of Paul.” This past couple of years with the emergence of the Tea (Taxed Enough Already) Party types, the “Peters” are making their voices heard. Perhaps it’s time the “Pauls” start speaking up as well.
For example, our national debt has now exceeded $14 trillion while our national economy is just over $15 trillion. When congress changed leadership in 2006 the national debt was just over $8 trillion. And the budget deficit went from $247 billion to over $1.5 trillion just this week.
A temporary freeze in discretionary spending is not going to solve the spending problem as that only accounts for about 40% of federal spending. The majority of federal spending goes toward entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and federal pensions. And every year that percentage of the federal budget dedicated to non-discretionary or entitlement programs increases. This is unsustainable as it is impossible to perpetuate programs that take in $1 of revenue, and pay out $1.20 in benefits. This is a critical issue that must be addressed by someone in Washington. Let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.
The “Pauls” in this equation are the recipients, the payees of government largesse. While it’s politically unpalatable to talk about reducing benefits from the entitlement programs, the necessity of doing so is obvious. One of the president’s themes the other night was sacrifice, and a little is going to be required of all of us to prevent the utter financial collapse of the country.
It would’ve been good to hear the president say, “The stimulus hasn’t worked. I promised unemployment wouldn’t go over 8% if we passed it, and here we are at 9.6% and the job situation still isn’t improving. Counting those who have given up on finding a job, we have real unemployment over 17%, nearly as high as it was during the Great Depression. And all those ‘shovel-ready’ jobs that were promised to be completed with the Stimulus, well, not only weren’t there very many of those, but we still have our highways and infrastructure crumbling. So I’m authorizing that the last $100 billion from the stimulus that hasn’t been spent be returned to the Treasury and am requiring that ACORN, the states, and all the specious research funds dispensed with the Stimulus be returned to pay off some of the debt I’ve racked up these first two years of my term. And we’re going to repeal much of the regulation passed these past two years that have shackled the private sector and prevented the job growth that should be occurring with record corporate profits.”
Instead, what we got was a proposed spending freeze of $400 billion, which is little more than a cork to plug the “gusher” that he and his compliant congress drilled for us.
As long as we’re fantasizing over what he might have said, I would have loved hearing him quote from Bill Clinton, and echo his phrase, “The era of big government is over.” That would be a significant admission that as Ronald Reagan explained, “Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.”
It would’ve been great to hear him admit that the health-care reform never was about reducing the cost of health care, but was about the government taking it over. And that since the Congressional Budget Office cooked the books on the proposal to have it appear deficit-neutral, he was going to sign the House bill that repealed Obamacare to avoid adding trillions of dollars more to the federal debt and deficit.
The State of the Union should be just that: a realistic recapitulation of the condition of the country, and specific recommendations to address each of those issues. And rather than moving to the center, as some have observed, he simply moderated his tone while still professing that every prescription to the country’s ailments is still government based.
AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at email@example.com.