What do we make of the SOTU last night? And what do we make of Rep. Paul Ryan’s response? The transcript of Obama’s speech is here at Roll Call. Not having anything to do with the substance of the speech, Obama has heavy hands. I do not recall any president who sets his hands down on the podium almost after every sentence where the force is picked up audibly. It is an odd mannerism, but one that is Obama. Still, I found it distracting. Biden looked amused through much of the speech, and a couple of times clapped when he was not supposed to. Boehner looked like he wanted to be anywhere else last night.
As a speech, it was not Obama’s best and it was uninspiring. When Obama took to soar, he undercut his own example. The NASA example being one of those times because it he, Obama, who gut the NASA program back in April. The one whopper he told was that he would veto earmarks–no he won’t. The other one was that Obamacare cuts the cost of health care–no it doesn’t. He also stated that government helped to stop the fiscal crisis–dubious claim at best.
There were some interesting tacks to the right by Obama: the decrease in some tax rates, bring ROTC back to campuses, a hint at Nuclear power plant construction, but overall, Obama proposed more spending after claiming he was freezing spending. The two statements do not add up. In the end, Obama really believes that the government is the spur to growth not free markets. Furthermore, it is a fantasy to say that Obamacare (a new entitlement) will save money. It is impossible to cover everyone in the country, and also, decrease spending. It also defies reality to say an entitlement costs the people less (when reality is entitlements never do such a thing). Entitlements add to the base of the budget and are the most difficult line items to delete, cut, or sunset. Will repeal of Obamacare result in an increase in health care spending? Unlikely. The CBO cannot truly predict how the law will be enacted, enforced, and how many details and costs will be written into the bill by bureaucrats. Again, you cannot insure everyone and expect the price of that subsidy to result in a decreased deficit.
Tonight Obama played a lot to his base and a little to the Republicans. In some ways he did this deftly. But, the overall message of SOTU last night was spending, spending, spending. How will this play out? Obama and the Republicans are going to have to wait and see who moves first. If Obama was really serious about cutting spending, then he and the Democrats–who control the government mostly still–are going to have to make the first move. If Republicans make the first move and try to cut, they will be excoriated by the Democrats and likely lose the battle ala 1996.
Last night’s SOTU was not serious. The real battle begins now between the Congress and the Executive.
Below, SOTU, and Ryan’s response. Listen to both. There is a mile’s worth of difference between the two messages.