TOPIC A

What should be in the State of the Union?

The Washington Post Sunday - - OPINION - TOPIC A ON­LINE: Drew Altman, Frances Bei­necke, Kath­leen Kennedy Townsend, Ed Rogers, Bob Lehrman and Matthew Dowd.

MAYA MACGUINEAS Pres­i­dent of the Com­mit­tee for a Re­spon­si­ble Fed­eral Bud­get

Pres­i­dent Obama should make con­trol­ling the na­tional debt the cen­tral theme of his speech. He should go big, not small, and lay the foun­da­tion for vi­able com­pro­mises.

The pres­i­dent’s fis­cal com­mis­sion of­fered a plan to re­duce the debt by $4 tril­lion. Obama should build on that mo­men­tum — not just talk about pay freezes or in­cre­men­tal tax re­forms — by call­ing for pas­sage of a com­pre­hen­sive plan

this year (to be phased in grad­u­ally) with ev­ery­thing on the ta­ble. His plans need to re­flect po­lit­i­cal bal­ance, not just be an open­ing bid for Repub­li­cans to re­act to, which would turn bud­get re­form into even more of a po­lit­i­cal punch­ing bag. On So­cial Se­cu­rity, for in­stance, he shouldn’t stick to stale talk of rais­ing taxes on the rich alone but should in­clude a bal­anced pro­posal with a mod­er­ate means test, re­tire­ment age in­crease, cost-of-liv­ing fixes and new rev­enue. Yup, that is some­thing for ev­ery­one to hate, but that’s what it’s go­ing to take.

HOWARD DEAN For­mer chair­man of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee; gover­nor of Ver­mont from 1991 to 2003

The pres­i­dent has a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity to re­set the fo­cus on jobs in the State of the Union ad­dress. The new ma­jor­ity in the House has helped im­mensely by mak­ing the same mis­take Democrats did — not fo­cus­ing on what Amer­i­cans are wor­ried about most. In this case, they have fo­cused on abor­tion and re­open­ing the health-care de­bate. The speech should be fo­cused en­tirely on jobs and the econ­omy. The pres­i­dent should avoid the temp­ta­tion to have a laun­dry list of key phrases and sen­tences de­signed to sat­isfy ev­ery in­ter­est group un­der the sun.

In­stead, do the whole thing on jobs, Amer­ica’s com­pet­i­tive­ness and im­prov­ing the eco­nomic prospects of the av­er­age Amer­i­can. In par­tic­u­lar, fo­cus on young peo­ple who are start­ing to fear that the Amer­i­can dream may not be there for them. Start with short-term help such as a tax code over­haul and job pro­grams; then dis­cuss items that are part of a mod­er­ate, four-to-10-year hori­zon and name new Amer­i­can in­dus­tries to sup­port. Fin­ish with longer-term fixes such as in­vest­ments that will make our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem more re­spon­sive to a chang­ing econ­omy. Ad­dress no other topics.

JAMIE RADTKE For­mer pres­i­dent of the Rich­mond Tea Party; can­di­date for the U.S. Se­nate in Vir­ginia

The goal is to cre­ate jobs. The prob­lem is deficit spend­ing. The so­lu­tion is to re­lease the stran­gle­hold govern­ment spend­ing has on our busi­nesses. The fed­eral govern­ment is spend­ing $300 bil­lion ev­ery month but col­lect­ing only $200 bil­lion. Nearly three years of stim­u­lus spend­ing has not cre­ated jobs. It is time to cut our spend­ing, re­duce the tax bur­den on our busi­nesses and un­leash the job-cre­at­ing po­ten­tial of the free mar­ket. In the State of the Union ad­dress and the of­fi­cial Repub­li­can re­sponse, I want to learn this from the pres­i­dent and both par­ties: How much are you will­ing to pro­pose in dra­matic cuts in spend­ing, be­gin­ning with the cur­rent bud­get, in or­der to re­duce deficit spend­ing and cre­ate jobs?

ROBERT L. REYNOLDS

Chief ex­ec­u­tive of Put­nam In­vest­ments

There is one ini­tia­tive that could si­mul­ta­ne­ously move Amer­ica to­ward fis­cal san­ity, dra­mat­i­cally boost na­tional con­fi­dence and help re­store our govern­ment’s own cred­i­bil­ity: en­sur­ing the long-term sol­vency of So­cial Se­cu­rity.

Ab­sent re­form, fu­ture ben­e­fits from So­cial Se­cu­rity are pro­jected to drop by nearly onequar­ter in 2037. But So­cial Se­cu­rity is by far the eas­i­est el­e­ment of Amer­ica’s long-term deficit chal­lenge to put right. It faces a short­fall only about one-tenth of the govern­ment’s to­tal un­funded li­a­bil­i­ties — roughly $5 tril­lion. We could bring So­cial Se­cu­rity into bal­ance through sur­pris­ingly mod­est re­duc­tions of ben­e­fits for more well-off cit­i­zens along with a grad­ual rise in full re­tire­ment age (to 69 by 2050, in one ver­sion) and a more rapid rise in the to­tal amount of wages sub­ject to FICA tax.

The psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact of mak­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity sol­vent would be im­me­di­ate and pro­found. Re­form would show Amer­i­cans that our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is not dys­func­tional. We would have set a prece­dent for bi­par­ti­san ac­tion to curb our much larger long-term deficit chal­lenges. Global mar­kets would gain a fresh re­spect for our econ­omy and the dol­lar it­self. And only you can do it, Mr. Pres­i­dent.

DOU­GLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN Pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Ac­tion Fo­rum; for­mer di­rec­tor of the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice; se­nior eco­nomic ad­viser to Sen. John McCain’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign

Pres­i­dent Obama should pro­pose to re­peal the Class Act.

The Class Act is a dan­ger­ous, new open-ended en­ti­tle­ment fur­nish­ing in-home care for the dis­abled that was in­cluded in health-care re­form strictly be­cause of its virtues as a bud­get gim­mick. While col­lect­ing $70 bil­lion in premi­ums looked good on paper, a fair read­ing of the full act was pro­vided by Se­nate Bud­get Com­mit­tee Chair­man Kent Con­rad, who called it a Ponzi scheme. Its dan­ger was high­lighted by the fact that the pres­i­dent’s hand­picked fis­cal re­form com­mis­sion pro­posed elim­i­nat­ing the Class Act.

The pres­i­dent needs to pro­vide a road map to a sol­vent fu­ture. He needs to pro­pose real cuts to spend­ing. He needs those cuts to rein in en­ti­tle­ment over­promises. The pres­i­dent needs to find com­mon ground with Repub­li­cans. The pres­i­dent needs to call for re­peal­ing the Class Act.

FRANK SHARRY

Ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Amer­ica’s Voice

Pres­i­dent Obama should chal­lenge Repub­li­cans such as Ari­zona Sens. JohnMcCain and Jon Kyl to work with him on im­mi­gra­tion re­form. Im­mi­gra­tion has be­come the defin­ing is­sue for Lati­nos, a fast-grow­ing group of vot­ers who are piv­otal in swing states such as Ne­vada, Colorado, NewMex­ico, Ari­zona and Florida. Ac­tion on the Dream Act in late 2010 put Repub­li­cans on the de­fen­sive and gen­er­ated awave of Latino sup­port that helped Democrats hold onto the Se­nate. Obama, hav­ing failed to keep his prom­ise to fight for com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form early in his pres­i­dency, needs more than a drive-by men­tion near the end of the speech.

Repub­li­cans, still in the grip of the party’s hard-lin­ers and prob­a­bly need­ing 40 per­cent of the His­panic vote to re­take the White House, are vul­ner­a­ble on this is­sue. Obama should call for ei­ther: (a) an ap­proach that com­bines the “ border se­cu­rity first” stance of many Repub­li­cans, with trig­gers to a path to cit­i­zen­ship for un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants that most Democrats sup­port; or (b) en­act­ment of a suit­able ver­sion of the Dream Act. This will pro­duce a long-over­due bi­par­ti­san break­through on im­mi­gra­tion or make the is­sue one that can be used against the GOP in 2012.

JOSEPH A. CAL­I­FANO JR. Pres­i­dent Lyndon John­son’s top White House as­sis­tant for do­mes­tic af­fairs; sec­re­tary of health, ed­u­ca­tion, and wel­fare in the Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion

Pres­i­dent Obama should avoid any leg­isla­tive laun­dry list and make jobs the govern­ment’s Job No. 1, by propos­ing a 21st-cen­tury Works Progress Ad­min­is­tra­tion to mod­ern­ize our in­fra­struc­ture— roads; high-speed rail and com­muter lines; and ef­fi­cient sewer, power and com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tems. He must make clear that this is a cap­i­tal in­vest­ment to be amor­tized over many years, not ex­pensed as sin­gle-year spend­ing like the cost of heat­ing build­ings or ad­min­is­ter­ing Medi­care claims.

He should pre­empt the deficit hawks by an­nounc­ing that he is di­rect­ing his chief of staff and di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get to meet with House and Se­nate lead­ers to seek agree­ment on a tril­lion dol­lars in sav­ings over the next 10 years. He should di­rect his sec­re­taries of state and de­fense to re­view ev­ery mil­i­tary sta­tion around the world to make cer­tain that there is no Amer­i­can in harm’s way un­less it is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial for our na­tional se­cu­rity.

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