Consider just a few of the major programs Obama trumpeted in last night’s speech. The United States will “reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race,” help states improve energy efficiency, go “all-in” to support alternative energy, “upgrade our infrastructure,” offer tax incentives to encourage job growth, “[invest] in world-class care, including mental health care, for our wounded warriors,” and “make high-quality preschool available to every child in America.”
And the initiatives don’t end at our national borders. Obama promised to work with other countries to eliminate extreme poverty worldwide, “[save] the world’s children from preventable deaths,” and achieve “the promise of an AIDS-free generation.”
Obama’s list of proposals addresses many laudable goals. Indeed, many of these policies echo ideas and themes presidents from both parties have introduced in previous State of the Union addresses. But all of these policies come with incredibly hefty price tags.
The American people expect optimism; they applaud presidents who lay out lofty goals and cast a promising vision for the coming year. But last night’s address stretched these expectations too far. Such bold domestic and global initiatives would cost trillions of dollars, yet the president was silent on how to fund them. A truly deficit-neutral approach would require significant new revenues. Can we honestly expect that this long list of bold initiatives would not increase the deficit?
The coming year offers Obama his best opportunity for legislative success. Next year, members of Congress will be more focused on the midterm election than on forging legislative compromise. By 2015, legislators will be preparing their parties and themselves for the presidential race, and Obama will be a lame duck.
Obama has a short window of time to accomplish his goals, so he needs to spend his political capital wisely. Instead of exerting significant efforts promoting a long list of programs, many of which have no hope of success in the Republican-led House, he should focus his efforts on a few policies that have a reasonable chance of gaining the bipartisan momentum necessary to become law.