A Somewhat Belated Reply to the State of the Union Speech

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 26, 2011

Podcast reactions from James Pethokoukis and yours truly (who does a terrible imitation of Alfalfa from “The Little Rascals” in the podcast) can be found here. I am not going to fisk the speech itself, but some links in reaction are worth noting.

One such link is the reaction of the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, which can be found here, and which points out that the taxing and spending restraint promised by the President’s speech may well be less than meets the eye. More fact-checking of the President’s speech can be found here. If there really is a “reality-based community” out there, it should be rather upset by at least some of the revelations found in the story.

Team Reality should take note of this as well, especially in the context of the continuing fight over health care reform:

Two of the central promises of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law are unlikely to be fulfilled, Medicare’s independent economic expert told Congress on Wednesday.

The landmark legislation probably won’t hold costs down, and it won’t let everybody keep their current health insurance if they like it, Chief Actuary Richard Foster told the House Budget Committee. His office is responsible for independent long-range cost estimates.

Foster’s assessment came a day after Obama in his State of the Union message told lawmakers that he’s open to improvements in the law, but unwilling to rehash the health care debate of the past two years. Republicans want to repeal the landmark legislation that provides coverage to more than 30 million people now uninsured, but lack the votes.

Foster was asked by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., for a simple true or false response on two of the main assertions made by supporters of the law: that it will bring down unsustainable medical costs and will let people keep their current health insurance if they like it.

On the costs issue, “I would say false, more so than true,” Foster responded.

As for people getting to keep their coverage, “not true in all cases.”

Remember how Nancy Pelosi told us that we had to pass the health care reform bill in order to find out what was in it. Well, we did. And we are.

More from Jennifer Rubin, who sums things up with the following:

James Capretta, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, also testified and observed the full hearing. In response to my inquiry as to the main take-away, he e-mailed, “The most important thing said [by Foster] today: in so many words, moving toward defined contribution health care has more potential than price controls to bring about real efficiency gains and higher productivity in the health sector, and slow the pace of rising costs. That’s a very big deal.” And a very big blow to the credibility of ObamaCare cheerleaders.

Of course, given that Representative Paul Ryan gave the official Republican response, some people–as usual–were more interested in bashing him, than in getting their facts straight regarding the state of the Union. Peter Suderman mocks these people:

. . . As far as I can tell, the new Democratic line on Ryan goes something like this: He’s the Republican mastermind who will destroy Social Security through a dastardly privatization scheme (bwa-ha-ha-ha! ahem.). He’s not ransoming the world for a mere one beeeeeeeeelion dollars; he’s slashing entitlements to the tune of hundreds of times that. Now that he’s been granted sole access to the GOP’s World-Shattering Budget Weapon, the rest of the Republicans in Congress are just his henchmen, and he will be free to implement his ultimate plan: the, er…Roadmap For America’s Future, which doesn’t sound scary, OK, but trust us, it is . . .

[. . .]

. . . But what exactly is this master plan that Americans should be so fearful of? It’s a plan to take the federal budget—currently humming down the path to fiscal disaster—and hopefully make it (gasp!) financially sustainable. It’s a plan to ensure that Social Security, which started paying out more than it takes in last year and relies on an imaginary trust fund in order to keep its books, can actually afford its obligations. It’s a plan to cap Medicare spending, and keep the growth of health care obligations from wrecking the federal budget by giving individuals the power to pick their own insurance plans. It’s a plan that would make no changes whatsoever for anyone who is a decade away from the retirement age. It’s a plan to balance the budget, eventually. Not now. Not next year. Not a decade from now, or even two. But in 2063.

Despite the implication that most of the GOP is now following Ryan’s lead, it’s also a plan that most Republican members of Congress have long been hesitant to endorse—and a plan that Ryan has explicitly said he will not impose this year. Those closest GOP leadership has come to giving the plan the nod is Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s non-commital statement this week that “the direction in which the roadmap goes is something we need—we need to embrace.” You see how they are all under his control, don’t you?

If you insist on wanting something to be legitimately scared of, Suderman is happy to oblige you:

Meanwhile, back at the White House: What about our hero, President Obama? What will he do? How will he take down this existential threat? I hate spoilers as much as your next fanboy, but here’s a preview of the next issue before it hits stands: Although the president will call for reducing the federal government’s mammoth budget deficit, he will heroically not propose to cut Social Security. Super!

Oh, and also: That whole “I will veto bills with earmarks” pledge from President Obama? Turns out that promise wasn’t serious. To be fair to the President, of course, while his speech certainly deserves criticism, some critics–like Paul Krugman, for example–continue to show that they should not be taken seriously, and make the President look good by trying to beat up on him. I am sure that the White House’s political shop is grateful.

All in all, however, a disappointing policy presentation by the President. If this is Change We Can Believe In, then I would hate to see what unimaginative Executive Branch drudgery would look like.

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