State of the Union 2015

President Obama

Photo courtesy of Flickr

It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come.”

President Obama’s State of the Union address last night was as notable for what it included as for what it didn’t include. Here are the highlights – and clues on what the president will include in his budget request, due out February 2:

War Funding: Afghanistan, Iraq and ISIS/ ISIL/ Islamic State

The Afghan war is over: “Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, fewer than 15,000 remain.”

Despite lauding the end of the war, the president did not say whether war funding, also known as Overseas Contingency Operations funding, would decrease accordingly.

The president also called on Congress to live up to its duty to authorize wars, asking for a specific authorization of the use of military force (or AUMF) against ISIS. He hinted at but didn’t commit to a limited approach against ISIS, suggesting we won’t repeat the Iraq war.

He also hinted at a greater role for international partners and even diplomacy: “Instead of sending large ground forces overseas, we’re partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America.”

“Middle Class Economics”: Child care, college, retirement and housing

“That means helping folks afford childcare, college, health care, a home, retirement — and my budget will address each of these issues, lowering the taxes of working families and putting thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year.”

The president’s proposals for improving opportunity for middle class Americans included maternity and paid sick leave, increased access to child care and a college education, to name a few. Not all of these proposals have direct budget implications, but some do.

Perhaps the signature proposal is free community college, for up to two years. Previous estimates have said this plan could cost $60 billion over ten years – less than the U.S. has spent on one military aircraft, the F-35.

The president also called for more slots and an increased tax credit of up to $3,000 per kid, per year to make child care more affordable (the average cost of child care varies greatly among states, but is as high as $16,430 per year for an infant in Massachusetts).

And the president’s tax plan, released last Saturday, includes measures to expand access to retirement savings accounts for middle class Americans.

Taxes on wealthy/ corporations

…for far too long, lobbyists have rigged the tax code with loopholes that let some corporations pay nothing while others pay full freight. They’ve riddled it with giveaways the superrich don’t need, denying a break to middle class families who do.”

On Saturday before the State of the Union, the White House released its tax plan. Highlights include proposals to close tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans, including closing the “trust fund loophole,” raising the top capital gains and dividend tax rate to what it was under President Reagan, and making it more expensive for the biggest financial firms to borrow excessive amounts of money.

Climate change

[N]o challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”

When we polled NPP constituents about their priorities for the State of the Union, climate change came in on top, with almost half of respondents saying they wanted the president to talk about climate change.

The president made clear that he will stand behind his administration’s international commitments to reduce the U.S. contribution to climate change.  While these commitments are an important statement of intention, we’ll be watching to see if the president backs these commitments up with action in his budget proposal. And we’ll see whether Congress, which clearly deprioritized renewable energy in its fiscal year 2015 budget, sees fit to revisit the subject.


 “…let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline. Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than thirty times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come.”

While taking a shot at the controversial proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the President proposed an ambitious goal to make infrastructure investments a priority. But what will that goal look like?

The American Society for Civil Engineers has noted that addressing our nation’s crumbling infrastructure would require an investment of $3.6 trillion before 2020 – that’s roughly the size of the entire federal budget each year. We’ve also noted that infrastructure investment is a solid, credible jobs program as well as a clear need for our country.

Gridlock in Government

“There are a lot of good people [in Congress], on both sides of the aisle. And many of you have told me that this isn’t what you signed up for — arguing past each other on cable shows, the constant fundraising, always looking over your shoulder at how the base will react to every decision.”

The president’s proposals surely represent the preferences of some Americans and not others, but as he notes, beating gridlock doesn’t mean that we all have to agree: it means changing the tone of debate, and looking for common interests. One thing is for certain: Americans have had enough of gridlock.

What He Didn’t Say: Campaign Finance, Sequester, Police force

When NPP constituents responded to our poll about what you wanted to hear in the State of the Union, the first issue was climate change, and a close second was campaign finance reform. While referencing money in politics multiple times, the president did not suggest that he would propose new initiatives to curb that influence.

The president was also largely quiet on the subject of the use of force by police, though he did say we must “reform America’s criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.” He has previously called for funds for police body cameras and training.

And finally, the president did not utter the word “sequester,” but the budget cuts known as sequestration are due to return in fiscal year 2016 unless Congress reaches another agreement to ease or lift the cuts. Whether the President mentioned it or not, sequestration cuts and their effect on defense and non-defense domestic programs will surely be one of this year’s hot button topics, and a serious potential source of gridlock.

Stay tuned: In two weeks, I will send this Congress a budget filled with ideas that are practical, not partisan.” We’ll be watching.