What should be in the State of the Union?
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.
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.