The Edmond Sun

February 20, 2013

An unrealistic State of the Union address

Rep. Tom Cole
Special to The Sun

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Obama’s State of the Union address was even more disappointing than his inauguration speech. Once again, the president disregarded the gravity of our economic challenges and outlined an old-school liberal agenda that is utterly out of step with our problems.

The federal government is drowning in debt, and the president is proposing more spending in the guise of “investments” for our future. President Obama’s laundry list of expensive programs might not be so out of place in the booming 1950s or the surplus 1990s. But in 2012, we’re facing a bleak economic outlook of high unemployment and a diminished standard of living unless we get our $16 trillion debt under control.

Debt reduction is the defining issue of this decade, yet the president continues to avoid proposing serious, specific solutions. Instead of taking the opportunity to be honest with the American people about the magnitude of our fiscal challenges and the danger they pose to Medicare and Social Security, President Obama largely ignored tough issues in favor of “modest reform” ideas and false promises that require spending we can’t afford.

In a one-hour speech, the president spent roughly 5 minutes discussing debt reduction. While acknowledging that “the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population,” President Obama again refused to show leadership on this urgent issue. It is stunning that the president’s most significant action to address debt reduction was to appoint the Simpson-Bowles commission to study the issue and even more outrageous that he has refused to embrace any of its recommendations. 

The State of the Union speech was an ideal opportunity to endorse some of the commission’s specific structural reforms to prevent Medicare’s certain bankruptcy in 11 years. Instead, the president tepidly suggested alternative “reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission.”

The president went on to explain that these “reforms” involve reducing Medicare payments to doctors and prescription drug providers. Not only does this impractical suggestion not solve Medicare’s structural problems, it actually makes the situation worse by jeopardizing seniors’ access to care. Many physicians have already stopped treating Medicare patients because reimbursement rates are 20 percent lower than rates for patients covered by private health plans. The gradual exodus is sure to become a stampede if payments are reduced further.

President Obama concluded his brief discussion of debt reduction by stating that he is “open to additional reforms from both parties.” With all due respect, being “open to” solutions is not the path to bold presidential leadership. President Franklin Roosevelt was not just “open to” overcoming the Great Depression, and President Reagan wasn’t “open to” ending the Cold War. These leaders achieved historic progress because they led.

America is in the midst of a budget crisis that will become a full-scale debt crisis unless we act soon. President Obama needs to understand that the campaign is over and it’s time to show political courage and work with House Republicans to achieve real progress on balancing the budget.

U.S. REP. TOM COLE, R-Moore, represents Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District.