President Barack Obama put the declining prosperity of the middle class at the center of his State of the Union address on Feb. 12, but the speech was somewhat perplexing in terms of how he believes the problem could be remedied.
Obama dismissed the idea that Washington should continue to focus solely on deficit reduction.
“Most of us agree that a plan to reduce the deficit must be part of our agenda. But let’s be clear: Deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan,” Obama said, adding that he and Congress agreed to $2.5 trillion in spending cuts and increased taxes, more than halfway toward a $4 trillion goal.
Halfway isn’t all the way. It’s long been clear that Obama just isn’t that into reducing the deficit, believing that if he could get the economy to boom again, that would take care of the federal budget deficit and start to reduce the national debt.
But the problem is the president did not offer a comprehensive new plan to goose the economy, either. Perhaps he wanted to avoid the word “stimulus,” which has become, unjustifiably, a dirty word.
The other ideas he pointed to — universal preschool, 15 new experimental manufacturing hubs, increasing the $7.25 minimum wage that few people actually make to $9 per hour, more green jobs — in order to help the middle class seem like small ball.
Instead of universal pre-school, why not universal community college, particularly for anyone who has been out of work more than a year?
Why isn’t the federal government doing more to fund education for adults to learn the skills they need to take the millions of unfilled jobs that corporations say Americans are not qualified to do?
Obama has established some visionary initiatives that will pay dividends in the decades to come.
But he – and the Republicans who control the House — don’t have any fresh ideas for how to get millions of Americans who want a job hired today.
Obama also used part of the speech to address guns.
“They deserve a vote,” Obama said repeatedly, referring to the victims of gun violence or their families scattered throughout the U.S. House chamber on the ideas to reduce gun violence in America.
“Now, if you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote, because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun — more than a thousand.”
It might have been the most effective and powerful use of the bully pulpit in Obama’s presidency.
Like a lot of issues, different parts of a gun control package might garner different numbers of votes. Obama’s remarks seemed to point to the idea of splitting any package up and taking a vote on each of the major items — a ban on assault weapons, restrictions on high-capacity magazines and universal background checks for gun sales.
The last idea may get the most support in Congress. Some public opinion polls have indicated that even gun owners widely favor the idea, along with wide majorities of the public. We also believe that restricting high-capacity magazines to 10 bullets, as has been proposed by some Democrats, is essential, although we’d argue the number should be six.
A carefully crafted assault weapons ban also could be an effective tool, although we believe it is less essential to any new gun control package.
All of these ideas have been debated enough. Congress should vote on these proposals by the end of March.