It had all the trappings of a State of the Union address – the Sergeant at Arms introductions, special guests in the First Lady’s box serving as props, and numerous opportunities for both sides of the aisle to leap to their feet and show their support. Although billed as a speech to a joint session of Congress, the real audience is the American people and early polls show it played well with them.
President Barack Obama hit many themes in his 52-minute-long address last week, with the economy front and center for some 20+ minutes before moving on to promote his budget plans. We listened closely to ascertain what that it might mean for our readers, many of whom work for the federal government. Will programs be cut? Where will funding be increased?
Not surprisingly, the democratic President made a strong case that government should have a significant role during these tough times.
“I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves, that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity, for history tells a different story,” he said.
He cited the expansion of the railroad, public high schools, the GI Bill, the federal highway system, and the space program as examples of government being the catalyst for private enterprise, often during very difficult times. And during these difficult times, Obama said there are three areas that are “absolutely critical to our economic future: energy, health care, and education.”
So if you work for one of these departments, is your program and your job safe? Maybe, maybe not. Obama has promised to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term in office. He said his administration has begun going through the budget line-by-line and eliminating wasteful and ineffective programs and have already identified $2 trillion in savings over the next decade.
“In this budget, we will end education programs that don’t work,” Obama said. Ouch. Does that mean scores of Department of Education (ED) workers will be out on the street? Will cuts save billions of dollars? Unlikely, for spending on public education is less than 3 percent of the federal budget as a whole and more than half of the federal education budget goes into programs for low-income students and special education, both of which received increased funding in the stimulus plan.
A much larger portion of the federal budget is allocated to defense spending. Here Obama promises to both save and spend. “We'll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq,” he said, “and reform our defense budget so that we're not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don't use.” He also expects to save money by ending the $12 billion-a-month occupation of Iraq, though spending may just be moved to other parts of the world, particularly Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Obama’s forthcoming budget will increase the number of soldiers and Marines, and they will get a raise. He promised to “give our veterans the expanded healthcare and benefits that they have earned” – a line that received one of the 38 generous standing ovations of the night, though it is unclear what that really means.
Taken in total, in true political form, the president’s speech gave very few concrete details about his budget and what it really means to the average federal employee. But that was to be expected; the real purpose of the night was to rally Americans during these dark economic times, get them to support the next bailout bill - the mortgage rescue plan, and oh so subtly encourage people to start lending and buying again.
Read the Full Speech
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