Who won and who lost in President Obama's hour-long State of the Union address? It was less of a laundry list than some presidents indulge in, but still there were plenty of signals to interpret and points to put on the board (or not).
Nerds and entrepreneurs
. Obama talked repeatedly about how he wants to sink money not just into education, but also into biomedical research, information technology and clean energy technology. "We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair," he said.
. Obama's many signals to them included calls for simplifying the tax system, lowering the corporate tax rate, ending earmarks and streamlining the government bureaucracy. He also reiterated his support for education reforms controversial with teacher unions, and said that "we want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones." He pushed for free-trade agreements all over the world, and urged colleges to welcome ROTC back on campus now that "Don't ask, don't tell" has been repealed.
College students and their parents
. Obama asked Congress to make permanent a tuition tax credit for individuals with income up to $80,000 and households up to $160,000. The maximum benefit is $10,000 over four years. The Treasury Department says 9.4 million families
with college students will benefit this year.
Business, labor and the construction industry.
Obama last fall proposed a $50 billion plan to rebuild infrastructure across the country. He made clear he is still interested in spending money on infrastructure and cited gains in other countries to try to get resistant Republicans on board. "South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports," he said.
He set goals -- high-speed rail access within 25 years for 80 percent of Americans ("faster than flying -- without the pat-down"), high-speed wireless coverage for 98 percent of all Americans within five years. Among those welcoming the commitment: the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the AFL-CIO.
There was no word in the speech about cutting nearly $5 billion in agricultural subsidies
, even though they are classic examples of corporate welfare. That's not to say they won't be on the chopping block in Obama's budget blueprint, due in mid-February.
. They didn't hear many fighting words or much about their causes. Obama did not say he would work to ease climate change, or close Guantanamo Bay prison, or put new restrictions on guns. He didn't suddenly become a champion of gay marriage. He didn't complain or even joke about Republican obstructionism and, unlike last year, there was no critique of rulings from the majority-conservative Supreme Court.
. "I'm asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don't know if you've noticed, but they're doing just fine on their own," Obama said. The remark was greeted pretty much with silence in the House chamber. Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, later issued a statement saying the U.S. oil and natural gas industry "pays taxes at effective rates far higher than most other industries" and receives tax deductions "similar to those enjoyed by other industries to encourage energy production and new jobs."
. The jobless rate has been above 9 percent for more than 20 months
, and some 14.5 million people were unemployed
last month. Obama briefly mentioned them and their hardships, but this was not a speech suffused with feel-your-pain moments. Nor did he propose a new Works Progress Administration or any other direct federal involvement in making sure people have work.
Serious deficit hawks
. Though Obama proposed a five-year freeze on domestic non-security discretionary spending, he mentioned only in the most general terms his own debt commission's work on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and defense spending. That earned him a gentle scolding from Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "It would have made more sense for the president to have used his commission's report to begin the national discussion on deficit reduction in earnest," she said.
. Obama said he is willing to look at new ideas to bring down health care costs, "including one that Republicans suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits." That drew a rebuke from Gibson Vance, president of the American Association for Justice. He said up to 98,000 people die every year from preventable medical errors and "countless more" are injured. "President Obama should direct his focus towards tackling this startling figure, not promoting efforts that could eliminate the legal rights of patients," he said.
Though he just signed a two-year extension of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans as part of a compromise with Republicans, Obama said a country serious about deficit reduction "simply cannot afford" making them permanent. "Before we take money away from our schools, or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break," he said. "It's not a matter of punishing their success. It's about promoting America's success."
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