The State of the Union Demands More Discretionary Spending. Good.
by David Atkins
President Obama's 2013 State of the Union address was oddly compelling. On the one hand the President reiterated his singular obsession with the deficit and curbing earned benefits; but on the other were some welcome major calls for increased discretionary spending. Among them were a jobs program:
A year and a half ago, I put forward an American Jobs Act that independent economists said would create more than one million new jobs. I thank the last Congress for passing some of that agenda, and I urge this Congress to pass the rest. Increases to science research and development:
Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy. Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer's; developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs; devising new material to make batteries ten times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.A number of items to combat climate change, including cap-and-trade and executive actions that will necessitate spending on green energy programs and climate change mitigation:
The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy. Solar energy expansion, which will necessarily involve increased subsidies:
Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. We've begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let's generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year – so let's drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.An Energy Security Trust to fund green tech R&D:
Indeed, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we.Infrastructure improvements:
I propose a "Fix-It-First" program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. And to make sure taxpayers don't shoulder the whole burden, I'm also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children. Let's prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America. And let's start right away.Universal Pre-K (!):
Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. So let's do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let's give our kids that chance. There was much more of interest in the State of the Union, of course. Minimum wage increases, higher education affordability, immigration reform and much more were discussed in what was a mostly progressive tour de force.
But in a speech that began with the usual invocation of the deficit and praise for Simpson-Bowles, the number of proposals guaranteed to increase discretionary spending were somewhat extraordinary. That's a good thing: the government must do much more with its money than simply protect the poor and the elderly while maintaining a massive standing army. It must continually invest in our future.
The Republicans will stonewall the President's agenda, of course. But it was still worth making the case, so that voters can decide in 2014 whether they want a path of investment and prosperity, or a path of misery and austerity.