Rep. Tom Cole
Special to The Sun
During last year’s State of the Union Address at the Capitol, President Obama attempted to launch a successful second term. With rhetoric that praised the American Dream, celebrated the middle class, declared economic recovery and gave hope of meaningful reforms, the president laid out his agenda for the year. He assured Americans that “We can get this done” or “We need to finish the job.” Despite confident claims and promises for action, this past year only revealed the president’s inability to lead, keep his word or accomplish his agenda.
Despite the nation suffering the weakest recovery since World War II, the president exaggerated the nation’s economic recovery by reporting new jobs added and glossing over the urgency of making real fiscal reforms. As he talked about the need for job creation, improving the workforce and strengthening the middle class, he blamed unemployment and families’ inability to get ahead on corporate profits and unchanged wages. While the unemployment rate showed some signs of improvement last year, there is still an unemployment problem and given the current circumstances, the horizon isn’t promising. Because of hindrances to job creators (like regulatory costs and Obamacare implementation fees) or inadequate worker training, individuals are staying unemployed longer and more are depending on government benefits, rather than getting a job. In fact, since Obama entered the White House, few jobs have been created and the average time an individual remains unemployed has shot up from 19.8 weeks to 37.1 weeks.
House Republicans already have passed dozens of bills that would create jobs; most of which are still awaiting action in the Senate. For example, the SKILLS Act would provide training programs for the long-term unemployed, helping them improve skills and giving them a wider range of job opportunities. Construction of the Keystone pipeline also would provide jobs for American workers, but the State Department and White House continue to needlessly delay its approval.
Even though the president praised a shrinking deficit, achieved by “spending cuts” and “raising taxes on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans,” his speech was then filled with promises requiring new spending without offering a real alternative to across-the-board spending cuts, known as the sequester. Instead, he called for modest reforms that would do little for debt reduction. He said, “The greatest nation on earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next,” yet we still saw numerous fiscal crises during much of last year.
While the president called for “a rising, thriving middle class” and a government that “encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative and opens the doors of opportunity to every child,” implementation of his healthcare law has threatened the future of the American Dream for individuals, families and small businesses. He claimed a year ago, “Already, the Affordable Care Act is helping slow the growth of healthcare costs.” But as many have now realized, health costs will rise for most individuals, either through higher premiums and deductibles, new taxes and fees or penalties for not signing up. Despite temporary delay of the business mandate, this won’t fix the problem of higher premiums that will hurt small businesses, damage the job market and stunt economic growth later on.
During the speech, he promised, “Our government shouldn’t make promises we cannot keep — but we must keep the promises we’ve already made.” That assurance sounded much like his notorious pledge before and after passage of his signature piece of legislation, “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.” However, we’ve since realized that he should have said, “If I like your health plan, you can keep it.” This became clear when millions of individuals received coverage cancellation letters in the weeks following the Oct. 1 launch of HealthCare.gov.
When he talked about the budget, he encouraged bipartisanship and told lawmakers, “Let’s set party interests aside and work to pass a budget that replaces reckless cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future.” But in the days leading up to and during the painful shutdown in October, the president refused to negotiate or even consider anything other than his point of view. For much of the time, he took a hands-off approach and allowed Senate Leader Harry Reid to drag the situation out to just hours before the debt ceiling deadline, which would’ve risked the full faith and credit of the United States. During the shutdown, the president’s supposed attempt of bringing House and Senate leaders together at the White House proved to be nothing more than a political photo op and was just another show of an incapable leader with a “my way or the highway” mentality and no desire to actually encourage bipartisanship.
Fortunately, leaders in the House and Senate eventually came together and agreed on a short-term budget agreement, which also appointed a budget conference committee to negotiate a long-term budget deal. Led by Chairman Paul Ryan and Chairman Patty Murray, the conference found common ground and announced a bipartisan deal that set spending levels for the next two years. And more recently, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees used the budget deal as a guide for funding the government through fiscal year 2014. Both chambers successfully passed this bipartisan omnibus in mid-January.
While the president offered his vision for several other items, including tax reform, education, energy exploration and production, immigration, trade, foreign policy and national security, he again saw little or no progress. In addition to problems with Obamacare (particularly the unworkable website), the president’s year was plagued by scandals and fiscal crises. In May, it was uncovered that the Internal Revenue Service was purposely targeting conservative and religious groups seeking tax-exempt status. Also under the president’s watch, the American people learned that the Department of Justice seized numerous phone records at the Associated Press and targeted several journalists. Even now, investigations into the Benghazi terrorist attacks and the misinformation provided to the American people continue.
A year later and just ahead of his next State of the Union address, it is clear that campaign-style rhetoric doesn’t translate into presidential leadership or prosperity for our nation. Americans would be well advised to listen to his next State of the Union with a healthy dose of skepticism.
U.S. REP. TOM COLE, R-Moore, represents Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District.