The White House wants to do this reorganization while also freezing annual domestic spending for the next five years. Obama said he believes this will reduce the deficit by $400 billion over the next 10 years and bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.
“We shouldn’t just give our people a government that’s more affordable,” he said. “We should give them a government that’s more competent and efficient. We cannot win the future with a government of the past.”
Obama said his administration has been taking on this issue of duplicative and underperforming programs for most of the last two years. In the last two budget requests sent to Congress, the White House has requested lawmakers to cut or terminate more than 200 programs.
“Now, we have made great strides over the last two years in using technology and getting rid of waste,” he said. “Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse. We’re selling acres of federal office space that hasn’t been used in years, and we will cut through red tape to get rid of more.”
But a major organization of the government is, by far, the most ambitious government reform goal any administration has laid out in more than two decades.
In 2003, President Bush reorganized the homeland security agencies after the Sept. 11 attacks. But Obama is proposing broader changes.
“We live and do business in the information age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black and white TV,” Obama said. “There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different entities that deal with housing policy. Then there’s my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they’re in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, supported the President’s call for reorganization.
“If we are to move our nation forward, beyond the challenges of the present, we must first demonstrate a commitment and a willingness to live within our means, reduce the footprint of government in our lives and reform a bureaucracy that has grown to comfortable with being careless with the American people’s money,” he said in a statement.
“This freeze will require painful cuts,” Obama said. “Already, we have frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years. I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs. The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without. I recognize that some in this Chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without. But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. And let’s make sure what we’re cutting is really excess weight. Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you’ll feel the impact.”
Obama said the domestic spending freeze would represent a little more than 12 percent of the total budget.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in the Republican response to the State of the Union that shows how they would do things differently, such as cutting spending to get the debt down, create jobs and reform government programs.
“I assure you that we want to work with the President to restrain federal spending,” Ryan said. “In one of our first acts in the new majority, House Republicans voted to cut Congress’s own budget. And just today, the House voted to restore the spending discipline that Washington sorely needs. The reason is simple. A few years ago, reducing spending was important. Today, it’s imperative. Here’s why. We face a crushing burden of debt. The debt will soon eclipse our entire economy, and grow to catastrophic levels in the years ahead.”
Ryan didn’t offer any specifics as it relates to how House Republicans would cut spending and from where.
Several lawmakers introduced legislation that would enact the proposals by the Deficit Commission to cut the deficit, including taking aim at several federal employee programs.
The President said he doesn’t fully support the recommendations developed by the Deficit Commission.
“[T]heir conclusion is that the only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it – in domestic spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes,” he said. “This means further reducing health care costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which are the single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit. To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations.”
Obama renewed his call for more transparency. He said his administration will create a website that details how and where tax dollars are spent.
“Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done: put that information online,” he said. “And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren’t larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this: if a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.”
Despite the call for domestic spending reductions, Obama promises that innovation and research and development will not be ignored.
“We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology – an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people,” Obama said. “With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.”
He also set a goal of getting 80 percent of America’s electricity from clean energy sources by 2035-whether wind, solar, nuclear, natural gas or clean coal.
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