State of the Union 2013 Edition: What it Was and Wasn’t
It is regrettable that we no longer have a true “State of the Union” speech. Rather than hearing a recapitulation of the condition of the nation and where it’s headed, we get what appears to be little more than another campaign speech replete with a veritable Christmas-list of populist proposals and recommendations. Predictably, there were errors, omissions, and outright prevarications, and very little mention of the problems that have been exacerbated over the past four years.
“As long as I’m commander in chief, we will do whatever we must to protect those who serve their country abroad, and we will maintain the best military in the world,” said the President. Our consulate in Benghazi was denied additional security multiple times, and the former Navy SEALs that rushed to embassy personnel’s rescue last September 11, were told to “stand down.” This can hardly be classified as doing “whatever we must to protect” our citizens serving abroad.
As for the “maintain the best military in the world,” comment, he must truly think all American citizens, not just his star-struck adherents, are cretins. His administration has already recommended reducing military spending from 5% to 3.4% of real GDP, and the sequester, which was the administration’s idea and which he has disingenuously promised “will not happen,” is set to kick in next month. Unless congress kicks the can down the road further, that will trigger another $1 trillion in defense cuts. Plus, the President is intent on reducing our primary deterrent, our nuclear arsenal, by another 40%. Only in a convoluted, twisted illogical world do those factors add up to maintaining the “best military in the world.”
“Today, the organization that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self,” he further told us. Yes, Al Qa’ida is less formidable than before, but what about all of the other Islamic extremist groups that maintain similar heinous objectives of eradicating infidels and wiping Israel off of the map? Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which is now running Egypt, to whom the administration is selling 200 M1A1 Abrams battle tanks and a squadron of F-16 Falcon fighters. It is truly inscrutable how he can boast about the decimation of Al Qa’ida while selling our best implements of war to their ideological brethren.
Another whopper was the, “Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion,” statement. There has been no reduction in the deficit, and our average for the past four years has been $1.44 trillion. In other words, we’re borrowing 43 cents for every dollar that we spend. What he classifies as a “reduction” is accounting smoke and mirrors that are not real. The only thing that has been “cut” has been the rate of projected budgetary spending growth.
“We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas,” the President boasted. Well, not hardly. The CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency) standards goal is to double miles-per-gallon efficiency by 2025. Such a forward looking goal is strikingly at odds with the past-tense reference that it has already been accomplished. I’ve heard some pundits attribute that to his “god-complex,” that because he has uttered it, it is so. And the 2025 standard is a goal, kind of like “not adding a dime to the deficit,” although reality has this nasty habit of contradicting the hypothetical.
Then the litany of populist Christmas wish-list items followed, from “green energy” to education. And the administration’s answer to all of their pet projects is to throw more money at them. But he did say, “Nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.” I guess that’s supposed to assuage our concerns. But if the phrase sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. In 2009, he used the phrase liberally starting with, “I will not sign a bill that adds a dime to our deficits — either now or in the future.” “Health care reform will not add one dime to our deficit.” “I will not sign health insurance reform … if that reform adds even one dime to our deficit over the next decade — and I mean what I say.”
In 2010 he said, “That’s also why we’re restoring pay-as-you-go: a simple rule that says Congress can’t spend a dime without cutting a dime elsewhere.” Also from 2010, “This [jobs] legislation is fully paid for and will not add one single dime to our deficit.” And again, “We will not add one dime to our deficit.”
The idiom continued into 2011. “I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficit.” And again, “I want to lower the corporate rate and eliminate these loopholes to pay for it, so that it doesn’t add a dime to our deficit.” It would appear that the caveat to the statement is “A” dime, for all the while he was making such fine sounding promises, he added nearly 60 trillion dimes to the deficit! Perhaps it’s time to invoke a simple math test for qualification to be President.
The President, in reference to energy costs, said, “That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.” Oil and gas production have increased over the past four years by 14%, but all of the increase has come on state and private lands, as federal lease production has dropped by 11%. I’m just curious how he can claim to “keep” doing something that he has yet to do.
The Washington Examiner reported last fall, “In 2008 under President Bush, there were a total of 55,085 oil and gas leases in effect on federal land. In 2011 under Obama, there were just 49,174, a decrease of 11 percent. In 2008 under Bush, there were 47.2 million acres of federal land under lease. In 2011 under Obama, there were just 38.5 million, a decrease of 19 percent. In 2008 under Bush, the federal government approved 6,617 oil and gas permits. In 2011 under Obama, the federal government approved just 4,244 permits, a decrease of 36 percent.”
And Reuters recently reported “energy companies will likely see more regulation in Obama’s second term, with less access to federal lands and water even as the administration promotes energy independence. Even tighter rules are expected for oil and gas drilling.” Clearly everything the administration is doing in the energy sector is increasing costs by attempting to limit exploration, drilling, and production.
And on ObamaCare, the President declared, “Already, the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of health care costs.” The cost of implementing ObamaCare has actually increased with each new projection. A recent study released in Health Affairs, said, “actuaries from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) expect an annual increase in health care spending from 2010-2019 of 2 percent over estimates made before passage of the PPACA. They also predict spending will reach $4.6 trillion in 2019, for an average annual growth rate of 6.3 percent during that time.” The passage of ObamaCare has accelerated the already high price of health care. Just the opposite of what the President claims.
The real state of the union is disconcerting. Poverty is higher than any time since FDR was President. There are eight million fewer employed Americans than four years ago, which has dropped our participation rate to the lowest level in the nation’s history, at just over 60%. And for those still looking for work, the average duration of joblessness has doubled to over 40 weeks. Long-term unemployment, averaged over the past four years, is at the highest level since the Great Depression.
Millions of Americans will be losing their company-sponsored health insurance due to the strident regulatory demands of Obamacare, which strikingly contrasts with what he promised, “if you like your health insurance, you can keep it.”
We emerged from the latest recession in the 2nd quarter of 2009, but our “recovery” has been the most tepid in U.S. economic history. Many economists point at the anti-business and anti-private sector policies and regulations of the administration as the most significant contributing factor. According to the Wall Street Journal, the administration added “11,327 regulations to the Federal Register in the first three years of the Obama administration (and that was before the big drivers — Obamacare and Dodd/Frank really got going). As The Economist magazine noted, America “is being suffocated by excessive and badly written regulation,” including “flaws in the confused, bloated law (Dodd/Frank) passed in the aftermath of America’s financial crisis.”
As columnist Mona Charen recently penned, “This is the Obama economy — a shrinking private sector drowning in regulations, a voracious public sector always in search of new ways to waste money (wind cars! solar stethoscopes!) and the inexorable ticking, louder every passing day, of the debt bomb.”
Tuesday’s big speech was more of a declaration of the state of the President’s ideologically tinged perception of what he thinks reality should be, rather than a recap of the actual condition of the union. And as with all politicians, but especially this one, we must pay closer attention to what he does, not what he says. They’re usually in diametrical opposition. Precious little of what the administration has accomplished has actually ameliorated the state of the union based on the data. The President’s grandiloquence may mask that reality for some, but not for those of us who rely on empirical data.
AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at [email protected].