President Obama presented the annual State of the Union address (SOTU) on January 28, 2014, at 9 p.m. EST. The President appeared in the House Chamber to a joint session of the 113th Congress. House Speaker John Boehner invited the President on December 13, 2013 in a letter where he specifically asked for the President's plans to create jobs.
This SOTU outlines the President's priorities for the fiscal year. Normally, it would preview the FY 2015 Federal budget. However, Congress set the FY 2014 and FY 2015 budgets in December 2013, overriding the normal budget process.
President Obama's SOTU repeated his existing economic policies. Here's a super-slimmed down summary of the SOTU's eight main areas:
- Obamare - He asked the House to stop voting against the Affordable Care Act. He reminded them it's a done deal.
- Tax Code Overhaul - Reward companies that create U.S. jobs.
- Create Jobs - More infrastructure projects, and raise minimum wage to $10.10/hour.
- Attack Climate Change - Switch more cars to natural gas.
- Immigration Reform - Pass the Senate's Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill.
- Education - A national pre-school program, and limit loan repayments to 10% of income.
- Defense - End the War in Afghanistan. Keep domestic defense strong, but rely on diplomacy as well.
- Gun Control - He briefly asked Congress to pass gun control. He didn't spend a lot of time, because it's unlikely it will.
Here's the more detailed version:
Reverse Income Inequality
Obama led with his definition of the American Dream, the idea of..."Opportunity for all...if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead in America." He added he'd work with Congress where he can, but he will use Executive Orders to further his goals.
The speech is consistent with Obama's prior economic policies, while also supporting Democrats who are up for reelection this year. To that aim, it focused on reversing income inequality, which Obama called "the defining challenge of our time" in a December speech.
Obama asked Congress again to support these job creation programs, many of which were left over from 2013 :
- Tax reform: make the code simpler, lower rates for businesses that create U.S. jobs, and raise them for those that create jobs overseas.
- Protect 3 million jobs by passing transportation and waterways bills.
- Undo budget cuts to federally-funded R&D.
- Launch six more technology hubs like the ones he created in Raleigh, NC and Youngston, OH.
- Streamline permitting process for construction projects.
- Help small businesses by passing the Trade Promotion Authority.
- Create new public-private partnerships for manufacturing innovation and technology.
- Instread of offering incentives, as he did last year, he just urged companies to hire the long-term unemployed and people looking for their first job.
Education and Training
The President continued to promote education as a way out of poverty. This includes Federal programs that work with states to make preschool available to every child in America, because every dollar invested saves $7 later on. Thirty states have already done so, and Obama said he will put together a coalition to make the "Race to the Top" program for preschoolers.
The FCC, Apple and the major internet providers are installing broadband in high schools. Establish more partnerships with companies to provide math, science and high tech training to high school students. Cap higher education loan repayments to 10% of income.
Obama put Vice-President Biden in charge of a commission to match job training programs with skills employers needs. This includes on-the-job training, community colleges, and funding for proven job training programs. This included extending unemployment benefits, that Congress allowed to expire for 6 million Americans.
"Give America a Raise"
Asked Congress (again!) to pass the Women's Paycheck Fairness Act. Since women hold many entry-level jobs, he also asked to raise the U.S. minimum wage to a living wage. He called on businesses, states, and cities to raise their own minimum wages.
The President will pass an Executive Order to require businesses that have government contracts to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2015.That level is enough to keep families above the poverty level, and keeps up with the cost of living.
He created a new savings bond called "MyRA," to help workers without pensions or 401(k)s save for retirement. Workers would sign up to have part of their paycheck automatically deducted, and put into Treasury bonds. The account would have the same tax break as IRAs, and gives Americans the same right for automatic savings at work that Congress has.
Create Jobs Through Energy Independence
One of Obama's priorities has been the war against global warming. First, he asked Congress to pass bills that shift cars and trucks to American-sourced natural gas. Stop giving $4 billion in subsidies to oil companies, and give them to renewable fuels companies.
Obama promised to protect more federal lands through executive orders. He will ask the EPA to use its Clean Air Act authority to set carbon standards for existing power plants, like it already did for new goal- and gas-fired plants. Obama has already hiked fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. He promised to do the same for heavy-duty trucks. They already must improve their fuel efficiency 20% by 2018. (Source: Washington Post, Here are 7 policies Obama said he would do without Congress, January 29, 2014)
Obama urged the House to pass the Senate's Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill. It would double the number of border security agents, crack down on businesses who hire illegal workers increase increase the number of guest worker visas. It would allow 11 million illegal immigrants to become citizens if they learned English, passed a criminal background check, and paid any back taxes. They'd also pay a citizenship fee, and wait in line behind legal immigrants.
The House immigration reform is a series of the following bills:
- Require Homeland Security to report how it will control U.S. borders in two years.
- Mandate all businesses use the federal E-Verify employment database system.
- Give more green cards to foreign-born graduates who majored in math and science at U.S. universities.
- Create a program for farm workers.
- Allow states to enforce federal immigration laws.
- Grant legal status to 11.5 illegal immigrants, with an opportunity to get a green card.
- Open a similar pathway to children brought to the U.S.
So far, Tea Party-Republicans have ignored the 2012 Presidential Election, which showed them the growing power of the Hispanic population, who voted for President Obama by 71%, compared to 27% for MItt Romney. (Source: AZCentral, Immigration Reform Still Hinges on Boehner, January 2, 2013)
Obama called on Congress to strengthen gun control. He supported a Senate bill, that was defeated in 2013, to strengthen background checks and ban military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. (Source: Washington Post, Say What!)
Ended the War in Afghanistan, but train and assist Afghan forces. Make sure terrorists don't launch attacks aginst the U.S. Keep domestic defense strong, but move off a permanent war footing. Reduce use of drones. Reform surveillance programs to protect domestic privacy. Close Guantanamo Bay because it's unconstitutional. Rely on diplomacy as well as military might. Keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Obama promised to provide more healthcare, including mental healthcare, for returning veterans. He also promised more job training and support for families.
Obama only briefly mentioned the Trade Promotion Authority, which would allow him to finalize negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Combined, these agreements would add $14 billion a year in exports. For more, see 3 Trade Locomotives That Could Get Derailed Next Year.
Obama has given up his vision of getting these priorities through Congress, so he will pass as much as possible through executive orders and sheer persuasion. He wasn't concerned about any more government shutdowns, debt ceiling crises, or even opposition by Republicans.
If passed, most of Obama's measures would stimulate growth and job creation. However, it is unlikely they will be passed by Republicans during an election year.
Did Obama Succeed with the Priorities from the 2013 SOTU?
Most of Obama's priorities in the 2013 did not make it past a House controlled by Instead, he spend his political capital negotiating with Congress to raise the debt ceiling and passing a budget. It ended with a 16-day government shutdown in October. After that, he was busy defending and tweaking Obamacare in response to criticism over delays and technical malfunctions of the web site.
Last year's executive order to increase information sharing to combat cyber attacks blew up in his face. He was severely criticized for allowing the NSA to snoop into American's online habits and emails.Obama kept his promise to lower the U.S. deficit without cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits Last year, Obama also asked Congress to pass the rest of the American Jobs Act. Article updated February 1, 2014.