President Obama’s State of the Union: a Line-by-Line Response

by Cody Hensarling

We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.

The problem with this statement is that it assumes that the primary reason why the economy is in the tank is due to a lack of “fairness”. While I agree that we need to restore our economy, the measures the President and his party have proposed to address this “fairness” gap tend to all revolve around the same concept: raise taxes. Raising taxes is not the way to escape a recession. Businesses will not expand and increase investments if more of their money is taken by the Federal government. Individuals will not invest if more of their income is taken by the Federal government. Raising taxes on targeted individuals may appease populist notions of “fairness”, but it doesn’t an economy restore.

Together, we’ve agreed to cut the deficit by more than $2 trillion.

No, “we” haven’t. What “we” did was agree to use accounting sleight of hand to stop increasing the budget by $2 trillion. These are phantom cuts; the actual amount of the decrease in proposed spending, according to the CATO Institute (www.youtube.com/watch?v=we5FUR1Opc0), is Negative 1.8 Trillion dollars. Yes, spending will increase after these cuts are put into place. Baseline budget cuts may have been agreed upon, but that doesn’t mean actual cutting is taking place.

Right now, companies get tax breaks for moving jobs and profits overseas. Meanwhile, companies that choose to stay in America get hit with one of the highest tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and everyone knows it. 

Even if this is true, it’s worth evaluating an alternate line of logic. Namely, what if companies are moving jobs and profits overseas are doing so because they are hit with one of the highest tax rates in the world? President Obama thinks we should raise taxes on companies who move jobs overseas and give tax breaks to companies who stay stateside. Wouldn’t the easier and more prudent decision be to lower the corporate tax rate, which is among the world’s highest rates? Yes, companies respond to incentives, so let’s use incentives to entice them to stay, not move farther away.

Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.

I can get behind this deal. Why not? Yes, we want to reward the best teachers. Yes, we want to give schools flexibility. Yes, we want to be able to easily replace failing teachers who are negatively impacting the lives and future career prospects of students. One question for the President: How do you intend to get this past your good buddies the teachers’ unions? Teachers’ unions, of which you have been strongly supportive, and a lack of school choice make our dreams of using merit pay to better compensate more effective teachers just that, dreams. Proposing common sense solutions makes no sense when you actively oppose their implementation and stand by those who stand in the way of said solutions.

Most new jobs are created in start-ups and small businesses. So let’s pass an agenda that helps them succeed. Tear down regulations that prevent aspiring entrepreneurs from getting the financing to grow. Expand tax relief to small businesses that are raising wages and creating good jobs. Both parties agree on these ideas.

Sure, let’s extend tax relief to productive small businesses. As the American Enterprise Institute (//american.com/archive/2011/august/obamasfollytaxingtherich) points out: “28 percent of the income of the highest earning 1 percent of Americans, the group targeted by the president’s tax hikes and the group most likely to own successful firms, is constituted by entrepreneurial income.” How is this “desire to help small business succeed” reflected in the President’s favored tax policies? Here’s a hint: it’s not.

It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising.  Pass clean energy tax credits and create these jobs.


Let me get this straight: you want to “double-down” on a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising? Um. Solyndra. It’s a real thing. People know about it. You can’t possibly be serious. You want to double our investment in clean energy at the same time that it’s been exposed that your administration has been using clean energy loans as a virtual slush fund for major donors? This is not a good idea, especially given that the clean energy industry does not currently look promising (//blog.heritage.org/2011/11/30/solyndra-was-just-the-beginning-experts-predict-solar-industry-collapse/).

Let’s never forget: Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a Government and a financial system that do the same. It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts.

Yes, no bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts! No more bailouts of the banks & GM, no more handouts to companies owned by key donors like Solyndra, and no more jobs compromises that don’t lead to any jobs! Oh, wait, this isn’t supposed to lead to an opposition of this administration’s policies and actions? Oops, it looks like it did.

Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Or do we want to keep our investments in everything else – like education and medical research; a strong military and care for our veterans? Because if we’re serious about paying down our debt, we can’t do both. 

No, I don’t want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. I want to extend tax cuts to all productive Americans so our economy can grow! I also want to cut government spending by recognizing that not every so-called “investment” is productive, needed, and efficient. If you are not interested in curbing government spending, I think you are the one who isn’t serious about paying down the debt.

We don’t begrudge financial success in this country. We admire it. When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it’s not because they envy the rich. It’s because they understand that when I get tax breaks I don’t need and the country can’t afford, it either adds to the deficit, or somebody else has to make up the difference – like a senior on a fixed income; or a student trying to get through school; or a family trying to make ends meet.

“Tax breaks that I don’t need and the country can’t afford.” The problem with this statement is that it assumes that all money belongs to the government and the individual citizens get a “share” doled out to them by some all-wise bureaucrat. The question is not whether or not the government can afford tax cuts, it whether or not the economy can afford the strain of overly-high taxation.

But no matter what party they belong to, I bet most Americans are thinking the same thing right now: Nothing will get done this year, or next year, or maybe even the year after that, because Washington is broken. 

I wish Washington was broken. It seems like every time there is a bipartisan supported bill coming out of Congress it has an astronomical price-tag, makes little impact on the lives of the vast majority of Americans, and has no real effect but to extend the reach of Federal control. I wish Congress wouldn’t get things done, because when they do, the average American suffers.

Send me a bill that bans insider trading by Members of Congress, and I will sign it tomorrow. Let’s limit any elected official from owning stocks in industries they impact.

Yay! Something I can support! It’s about time for this to happen, and I applaud the President for supporting such a measure. Now, let’s hope he can follow through.

The executive branch also needs to change. Too often, it’s inefficient, outdated and remote. That’s why I’ve asked this Congress to grant me the authority to consolidate the federal bureaucracy so that our Government is leaner, quicker, and more responsive to the needs of the American people. 

This is essentially code for “grant me the authority to enact my agenda without Congressional approval”. Uh, no. Checks and balances exist for a reason, and the last thing we need from this Administration is more intrusion of the Executive branch into our lives.

Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about. That’s not the message we get from leaders around the world, all of whom are eager to work with us.

Our economy is in the tank by your own admission; the idea that “all leaders around the world” are eager to work with us ignores the reality of growing diplomatic crises with Syria, Iran, and North Korea (to name the first three countries that come to mind), and the idea of American exceptionalism is under attack from all directions: including from you! So, Mr. President, I would tell you that America is still the greatest nation on the planet, but also in decline. Unless this is what your vision of what international peace and domestic economic prosperity looks like. If that is the case, then I really am happy for you to say that I don’t “know what (I am) talking about”.

Cody Hensarling is an intern at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

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