2011 State of the Union Address


EVENT BRIEF

2011 STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS

Prepared by:

Audrey Busch (abusch@wpllc.net)

January 26, 2010

On the heels of landslide midterm elections that significantly altered the balance of power in Congress, President Barack Obama delivered his second, and somewhat subdued, State of the Union Address on Tuesday, January 25, 2011. Building up to the address, pundits speculated that innovation, education and infrastructure would be front and center, and they were proved right. The President also addressed the federal deficit, the nation’s involvement in the Middle East, and the angst surrounding the controversial healthcare reform bill passed by the 111th Congress. Overall, the President spoke of creating an efficient, effective, competent government that fosters innovative economic growth to sustain this nation’s place as “a light to the world.”

Teeing up the key messages in this address, the President asserted that “action taken over the last two years may have broken the back of this recession – but to win the future, we’ll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.” While the country experiences sober times, the President voiced optimism, describing an opportunity “to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world” and his vision for reaching this goal.

Describing the current need for innovation around pressing economic and national needs as “our generation’s Sputnik moment,” he noted the importance of maintaining the nation’s “leadership in research and technology” and linked this imperative to innovatively educating America’s youth. The President, concerned as U.S. students continue to fall behind their international peers in math and science achievement and college graduation rates, expressed his continued support for what he considers to be the most “meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation,” the Race To the Top initiative and pointed to the program as one that might serve as a framework for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

He discussed the importance of effective teachers in U.S. classrooms and pointed to the Administration’s objective to recruit 100,000 new science, technology, engineering, and math teachers over the next ten years—a goal that was announced last summer. Speaking to the nation’s youth, the President made a plea for “those contemplating their career choice…to become a teacher. Your country needs you.”

Pointing to the enactment of legislation that reformed the federal student loan program and ended the loan program backed by private banks—the Federal Family Education Loan Program—the President highlighted the success as one that ended “taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students.” He then requested that Congress “make permanent our tuition tax credit – worth $10,000 for four years of college.”

Aligning with the rhetoric of the 2010 campaign season, the President acknowledged the nation was “buried under a mountain of debt” and proposed freezing domestic spending for the next five years. While budget experts debate the accuracy of savings this would produce, according to the President, such a freeze would reduce the deficit by $400 billion. The President stated, “I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without” but urged against action that would involve “gutting our investments in innovation and education.”

Finally, as had been reported earlier in the day, the President remarked on “earmarks”. He said, “The American people deserve to know that special interests aren’t larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this: if a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.” Of course, this assertion again raises the thorny issues around how an “earmark” is defined--so-called “pet projects” versus authorized programs. It seems the matter will be debated again in the federal budget process.

The materials that flooded the White House’s web site as the President spoke to the nation include fact sheets on the policy areas he discussed, organized around the address’ four themes: innovate, educate, build, reform, and responsibility. Related to education, these materials emphasized issues familiar to educate advocates: raising expectations to reform America’s schools; preparing 100,000 new STEM teachers; promoting college access and completion; and reforming immigration laws to stop expelling talent (more at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/01/25/fact-sheet-state-u...).

REPUBLICAN REACTION
Chairman of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan (R-WI), a rising star in the Republican Party, delivered the Republicans’ response to the President’s address. Ryan’s speech emphasized the Republican’s message throughout the campaign season: the importance of fiscal solvency and limited government. In fact, Ryan described the secret to job creation as a “system of limited government, low taxes, reasonable regulations, and sound money.” This course of action, he stated “has blessed us with unprecedented prosperity.” The messaging was provincial and not once was education, or any other specific policy issue other than the size of government and reducing the federal deficit, discussed.
As for other Republican responses, immediately following the State of the Union, Representative John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, issued a press release commenting on the President’s education proposals. The release specifically addressed funding Race to the Top, saying, “This request is especially offensive in light of the federal government’s failure to keep its promise to fund special education.” While Kline seemed appreciative of the President’s intentions to build a sense of urgency behind education reform, he made his methodology for reform clear: “My goal is to pull back federal involvement in the day-to-day operations of our schools to enable them to succeed.” Furthermore, Kline’s statement reinforced that any proposed new federal programs would meet resistance.

CONCLUSION
Typically, the President’s budget proposal is sent to Capitol Hill the week following the State of the Union. This year, the FY 2012 budget request is not expected until the middle of February. That request will provide more details regarding about how the President intends to reduce spending and create a better and more efficient federal government. While education was a primary Administration priority in the address, education advocates are preparing for proposed program eliminations and other belt-tightening that will be requested in an effort to “give our people a government that’s more affordable.” Of course, exceptions are expected as well—particularly for the Administration’s own pet projects, such as Race to the Top program or the Investing in Innovation Fund.

Administration material on the 2010 State of the Union can be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov/state-of-the-union-2011, the text of the address can be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/01/25/remarks-president-....

Furthermore, as follow up to the address, the White House has scheduled a series of live online events to help answer the public’s questions. The President will be hosting one of these events on Thursday, January 27 at 7:00 pm via youtube. To participate visit: http://www.youtube.com/worldview. All other events can be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov/state-of-the-union-2011.

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