President Barack Obama, in his fifth State of the Union, reiterated many of the common management themes that have been at the center of the administration over the last four years.
The president Tuesday night pressed for balanced deficit reduction and emphasized the need to stop sequestration from going into effect. He, once again, told Congress to pass comprehensive cybersecurity legislation. And, Obama said the Defense Department would continue to invest in new capabilities while reducing waste.
Additionally, he focused on manufacturing, energy and education that will give the departments of Defense, Energy and several others new mandates.
“Tonight, I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago,” Obama said. “Let me repeat — nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”
That idea of a smarter government starts with figuring out how to cut the deficit.
Obama said sequestration cuts are not the way to go as they are “sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts [that] would jeopardize our military readiness. They’d devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs.”
Sequestration cuts totaling $85 billion across nearly every agency are scheduled to begin March 1 and could mean furloughs of hundreds of thousands of federal employees and a significant reduction in citizen services.
Obama said those in Congress who have proposed cutting from only civilian agencies and not DoD are mistaken.
Instead, Obama called for “a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share.”
He said a balanced approach means changing the way government pays for Medicare and getting rid of tax loopholes that would save hundreds of billions of dollars.
“Now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit,” he said. “The American people deserve a tax code that helps small businesses spend less time filling out complicated forms, and more time expanding and hiring; a tax code that ensures billionaires with high-powered accountants can’t pay a lower rate than their hard- working secretaries; a tax code that lowers incentives to move jobs overseas, and lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that create jobs right here in America. That’s what tax reform can deliver. That’s what we can do together.”
Like sequestration that was never supposed to happen, Obama said Congress and the Executive Branch need to stop moving from one budget crisis to the next.
“Let’s set party interests aside and work to pass a budget that replaces reckless cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future,” he said. “And let’s do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors. Let’s agree, right here, right now, to keep the people’s government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America. The American people have worked too hard, for too long, rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected officials cause another.”
Beyond the potential sequestration cuts, Obama called for more attention to the threat of cyber attacks.
He signed the much-anticipated cybersecurity Executive Order Tuesday, creating new roles for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Department of Homeland Security and several other agencies to create standards and improve information sharing.
“Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks,” Obama said.
Part of that cyber deterrence effort comes from DoD. Obama promised to invest in new capabilities, while reducing waste and wartime spending.
“We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families – gay and straight. We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters, because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat,” he said. “We will keep faith with our veterans – investing in world-class care, including mental health care, for our wounded warriors; supporting our military families; and giving our veterans the benefits, education, and job opportunities they have earned.”
DoD also will play a big role, along with Energy, to create three more manufacturing hubs where businesses can partner with government to turn areas of the country into “global centers of high-tech jobs.”
“And, I ask this Congress to help create a network of 15 of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is Made in America,” Obama said. “If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas. Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy. Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s; developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs; devising new material to make batteries 10 times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the space race. And today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy.”
He’s also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America to attract private capital to upgrade the nation’s ports, pipelines and schools.
Obama also said the administration will release an education scorecard Wednesday and launch a new commission to improve voting.
Francis Rose is the host of In Depth, which airs weekdays from 4-7 p.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, DC metro area and online everywhere. Francis has covered all three branches of the federal government as a broadcast journalist since 1998. He joined Federal News Radio in 2006, and launched In Depth in 2008 as a daily show focused on connecting federal executives to the information they need to do their jobs better.