January 11, 2016

SOTU 2016: A President Looking to His Legacy, Republicans Looking to Solutions


  • The president will deliver his final State of the Union address on Tuesday. It is likely to be more about his legacy than about the needs and desires of the American people.

  • Obama policies over the last seven years have failed many Americans. The result is a fragile economy, a health care law that is not working, and a world that is less safe.

  • Republicans are putting the American people first with tested, proven solutions to make our economy more competitive, to restore freedom at home, and to be stronger abroad.


On Tuesday night, President Obama will deliver his final State of the Union address to the nation. The president has been in office now for seven years. While he will say many things Tuesday night, his track record is clear, and the results of his policies have been harmful for the country. The president will say he is fighting for Americans, but what he’s fighting hardest for in this final year is his legacy.

What is needed now are tested conservative solutions for our economy, health care, and national security. These are things the president should talk about in the State of the Union. Republicans will talk about these issues with an eye toward the future.

Economy

Over the past four quarters, the economy has grown at a tepid 2.1 percent. That weakness is directly attributable to the president’s policies. He spent his first seven years in office holding the economy back with debt, burdensome regulations, and higher taxes. Unfortunately for Americans, the president has indicated – and there is evidence to show – that he will spend his final year in office piling on even more regulations. Republicans will guard against these regulations and protect American jobs.

Today, 15.7 million Americans are unemployed, working part time because they cannot find full-time employment, or want work but have stopped looking altogether. The persistently low labor force participation rate shows that millions of Americans are staying on the sidelines. The participation rate has been stuck in a narrow range of 62.4 and 62.9 percent. Prior to the recession, the rate was 66 percent. 

Many Americans who have a job continue to struggle in this economy. Last year, hourly wages were stagnant. Last month was the 77th straight month that year-over-year hourly wage growth was at or below 2.5 percent. Prior to the recession, wage growth routinely exceeded 3 percent. Unemployment for Americans aged 16-19 averaged 17 percent in 2015; and for African-Americans, the unemployment rate averaged 9.6 percent. 

The Obama administration has offered no solutions other than seeking to increase the number of workers who are eligible for overtime pay. As with most other Washington red tape, the new regulations would leave employers with less money to spend on wages and benefits, and leave workers no better off.  

Republicans look to get more jobs and growth with:

  • greater predictability from government;
  • a debt that is under control;
  • regulatory reform; and
  • tax reform for individuals, families, and businesses.

Budget

In 2015, the president insisted on increasing domestic spending above the limits he had signed into law. Because Senate Democrats followed the president’s lead, Congress was not able to complete a single appropriations bill on time and was forced to pass a large omnibus spending bill in December. President Obama and congressional Democrats have failed to fund government responsibly. In 2016, Republicans look to begin and finish the appropriations process in a transparent way for the first time in years.

Debt-Obama-Presidency

Under President Obama, the national debt has risen from $10.6 trillion on January 20, 2009, to $18.9 trillion today. There is a tidal wave of debt that will crash down on the U.S. economy and every American. The president and Washington Democrats can no longer pretend the problem does not exist and hope to leave office before a crisis. When things do reach crisis, the major entitlement programs will be insolvent, and they will not provide the safety net that Americans expect. The nation has lost valuable time to address these insolvency problems. Inevitable changes to entitlement programs will have to be larger and more complex than they would have been if President Obama had addressed them over the past seven years. Republicans look to save and preserve Medicare and Social Security for future generations.

Taxes

On tax reform, the president should stop vilifying business. The president should propose international tax reform that is carefully thought out. He pretended to make this kind of proposal in 2012. In reality, he placed the blame for poor results on businesses, not on America’s outdated tax code and the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world. Republicans have already laid the groundwork for comprehensive tax reform and will continue to work on getting reform into effect once the Obama administration has ended.

Health care

For the first time, an Obamacare repeal bill has been presented to the president. His response is to try to convince Americans that his health care law is working. The president will not be telling the whole story. Instead, Republicans offer alternatives that would have given Americans more choice and freedom in their health care. He will not address:

  • the way Obamacare has interfered with and fundamentally altered the doctor-patient relationship that is at the heart of the American health care system;
  • that Democrats raided Medicare to pay for Obamacare;
  • that Obamacare has resulted in fewer, worse, and more expensive health care options for many Americans;
  • that most of Obamacare’s new beneficiaries are receiving coverage through expanded Medicaid, a program that provides substandard care;
  • that many Americans are finding they have health insurance but can’t afford to get the care they need due to higher copays and deductibles;
  • that premiums keep rising – up an average of 7.5 percent for HealthCare.gov benchmark silver plans for next year, and up 12.7 percent for bronze plans.

Americans still don’t want Obamacare, and they are not signing up like the president expected. Initially – and as recently as last year – the Obama administration and the Congressional Budget Office projected about 20 million Americans would be signed up through Obamacare’s insurance exchanges. Last fall, however, HHS changed its enrollment projections to about half that. Many of the people who are participating are doing so only because the law requires them to. No amount of spin from the White House has been able to convince the American people that this Washington-driven mandate is right for them.‎ President Obama will never admit that his health care law has fallen short of his promises. Republicans are working to create better solutions for Americans’ health care – to make it accessible and affordable for everyone.

Gun control

The president’s recent executive action on guns is political theater. The lead act of his initiative is new guidance about which entities selling firearms must conduct background searches on purchasers. This guidance has no regulatory effect. Those “engaged in the business” of selling firearms already are required to obtain a license and run background checks. The new guidance merely restates existing law. Even if it did increase background checks, it would not have prevented any of the recent mass shooters from obtaining guns.

Most other parts of the president’s gun initiative simply call on the administration to enforce laws that already exist. They include measures such as hiring more than 400 additional government officials; dedicating more funds to fight gun violence; encouraging states to share more records with the background search system; directing U.S. attorneys to focus more on domestic violence outreach; and removing federal barriers to states sharing mental health information. Republicans have been urging the president to enforce existing law for years.

Today more Americans support expanding gun rights than restricting them; and for the first time in 20 years, a majority of Americans oppose an assault weapon ban. Gun crime convictions under President Obama are down nearly 30 percent from a decade ago. This won’t stop the president from pushing for more gun control in the State of the Union. Senate Judiciary Chairman Grassley has laid out “Just the Facts” on gun control in response.

National security

It is unclear how President Obama will approach the issue of national security in his address Tuesday. He may want to ignore the growing threats around the world, as this instability is a direct result of his failed policies.

ISIL rose to prominence as a direct consequence of President Obama withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq based on a political calendar rather than on conditions on the ground. Under his strategy to combat ISIL, there have been homegrown Islamist terrorist attacks taking place in the U.S., ISIL-directed terrorist attacks taking place in Paris, a terrorist bombing of a Russian airliner, and many other attacks. ISIL can conduct and inspire these attacks because its terrorist army still controls large amounts of territory. In his speech President Obama should offer a change in strategy to address these failings

President Obama should also reverse his strategy of calibrating troop presence in Afghanistan to a political calendar. According to a Washington Post article on December 27, “the Taliban now holds more territory than in any year since 2001.” The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan told the Senate Armed Services Committee in October that ISIL’s Afghan affiliate is now “operationally emergent,” as it takes advantage of the instability the Taliban and al Qaeda foment there.

It is almost certain that President Obama will not say anything about Libya. The country has become a humanitarian nightmare as a direct consequence of his military intervention and subsequent abandonment of the Libyan people. At the beginning of last year, the director of national intelligence described it as terrorist safe haven for al Qaeda and ISIL. At the end of December, a press report from the U.N. News Center said the situation in Libya “has left nearly 2.4 million Libyans in desperate need of humanitarian aid.” The entire population of Libya is about 6.4 million. President Obama explicitly argued that the power of the U.S. military was needed to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Libya. This is what he left with his intervention.

In past speeches, President Obama has praised his “reset” policy with Russia. In this State of the Union address, he should admit that his policy has failed. Since the Obama administration launched that policy, Russia has invaded and annexed part of Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists murdered 298 people on Malaysian Air flight 17. There have been two ceasefires negotiated, which Russia continues to violate on a daily basis, as U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power said last month. It has been more than four years since President Obama called on Syrian President Assad “to step aside.” Since then, Russia has increased its support for Assad, most recently with air strikes against moderate opposition forces. President Obama’s response to all this aggression has been to tell Vladimir Putin that he is on “the wrong side of history.”

In contrast, it is likely that President Obama will take a victory lap for the Iran nuclear agreement. He will need to ignore some very plain facts in order to do it. The IAEA recently concluded that Iran was still hiding key elements of its nuclear weapons program, yet President Obama said sanctions relief under the final agreement could go forward anyway. Iran continues to test ballistic missile technology in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Instead of punishing that behavior, President Obama removed the ban on Iran testing missiles.

Transportation

In his speech, the president should commend Congress for passing the longest highway bill since 1998. Senate Republicans funded highway and transportation programs across the country, including the Highway Trust Fund, in a fiscally responsible and measured approach. In December 2015, Congress passed a five-year, $305 billion package extending authorization for transit programs through September 30, 2020. By leading, Senate Republicans found a way to fund transportation programs critical to the economy and provide more certainty to the transportation sector. Republicans continue to work on our rail and aviation transportation systems as well.

Cybersecurity

In May 2009, President Obama declared that the “cyber threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation.” So the president should congratulate Congress for passing a landmark cybersecurity information sharing law. The legislation helps companies to better respond to cyber attacks, enables the government to gather more information about significant cybersecurity threats, and also enhances privacy protections for consumers. Republicans continue to look to address the evolving and sophisticated cyber threat.

On Tuesday evening, President Obama should also express support for a voluntary and flexible cybersecurity framework that fosters a public-private partnership. And he should talk about sanctioning bad actors in cyberspace, to effectively deal with countries such as China and North Korea, which support cyber attacks against the United States on a regular basis.

Energy

President Obama will champion his administration’s singular focus on implementing policies to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change. He should also mention that his climate policies will raise energy prices, threaten energy security, eliminate jobs, and destroy economic growth. He should fess up to the reality that for all that pain, his climate policies will generate negligible environmental gain.

The president also should thank America’s fossil fuel producers for generating American economic vitality during the past seven years – and stop his administration’s focus on erecting barriers in their way. Republicans are pursuing regulatory reform that speeds the extraction, transmission, refining, and consumption of all American energy resources. Republicans are looking to modernize America’s energy policies to reflect new market realities in order to support affordable and reliable energy.

Different priorities for 2016

A president’s address and subsequent budget submission to Congress usually set the stage for the administration’s legislative priorities. This year, they set the stage simply for trying to create a better legacy for Barack Obama. Republicans will continue to put forward priorities that reflect the needs and desires of all the American people.