Guest Perspective by Ralph Nader
The President's State of the Union Speech is the Big Speech of the year. Yet there is never an opportunity either for the press or the citizenry to promptly follow up with any questions or requests for clarifications. As a result, doubt and misunderstandings fester.
Watching President Obama's speech the other evening before a joint session of vociferous members of Congress, quiet Supreme Court Justices and military brass, I jotted down a few items for the White House to consider.
First, Mr. Obama cited the Senate's inaction four times in contrast to the House of Representatives. To add to his frustration, he cited the Republican leadership for insisting that "sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town." What he did not do was to urge his fellow Democrats to change the filibuster rule by a simple majority vote.
As a legal expert, Tom Geoghegan wrote to Senate majority leader Harry Reid (Dem. Nev) this week, "the Senate can act to change its rules, any rule, by majority vote, even a rule requiring a greater one." That means that the Democrats can change this rule with only 51 of their 59 votes in the Senate and get these bills passed.
Why President Obama did not tell tens of millions of Americans Wednesday evening about how to break the logjam, the gridlock on health insurance, energy, jobs, financial reform and other measures, that they dislike, is a question only he can answer. "Certainly Senate Rule 22 itself should be changed, so that there is ultimately a simple majority for a cloture limiting debate vote," according to Geoghegan.
Second, since dollars invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy have greater, safer, returns than money going into what Mr. Obama calls a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants and clean coal technologies, (which require heavy government subsidies), why did he accord the latter the same priority as the former?
Third, President Obama promised to double our exports over the next five years. This really raised eyebrows, leading New York Times reporter Helene Cooper to write that this highly ambitious goal would require him to persuade China to revalue its currency by 40 percent, "get global economic growth to outperform the salad days from 2003 to 2007 and lower taxes for American companies that do business abroad," plus "forget about strengthening the dollar." He left his own supporters wondering how he could perform this miracle and not forget his campaign promise to revise NAFTA.
Fourth, on health insurance reform, Mr. Obama said: "If anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors and stop insurance company abuses, let me know." Well, Mr. President, try what you supported before you became a Presidential candidate--single payer, full Medicare for all, with free choice of doctor and hospital. Remember you did not allow single payer adherents to have a seat at the table, the way the CEO of Aetna did five times in the White House. (For more see SinglePayerAction.org)
Fifth, you alluded as one reason for the multi-trillion dollar deficits you inherited from the Bush regime was "not paying for two wars." Well, you also are not pressing for a war tax to pay for your two wars, as Rep. David Obey (Dem. Wisc) urged you and other Democrats to do a few months ago. What is the difference and why?
Sixth, the President asserted the need to freeze government spending for three years, but excluded the well-documented, bloated, wasteful, redundant Pentagon budget. He also did not go after the huge corporate welfare budget of subsidies, handouts, giveaways and bailouts. Instead, he left many civic groups wondering what cuts might be coming for programs relating to food, auto, job and environmental safety.
Seventh, his brief words of foreign and military policy came across as Bush redux trying to show how tough he is. He compared notches on his belt in terms of the number of captured or slain "Al Qaeda's fighters and affiliates." He, of course, did not make any comparisons with the far greater number of innocent civilian causalities from drones and other bombings.
These were strange phrasings from a recent Nobel Peace Prize winner who managed to ignore completely the peace process for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There was not one sentence on, arguably, the core issue in that tumultuous region.
Eighth, on the Iraq war, he went over the top, declaring "make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home." Not really. Both Bush and Obama have concluded that 50,000 soldiers will remain in Iraq indefinitely, with many more in the Persian Gulf region.
American taxpayers will be paying nearly $800 million a year just to guard the U.S. Embassy and its personnel in Baghdad. That sum alone is greater than either the annual budgets of OSHA ($502 million to deal with 58,000 work related deaths in America) or NHTSA ($730 million to deal with over 40,000 road fatalities.)
I'm sending this column to the White House. You also may wish to send your observations to President Obama. Citizens should be more than spectators to the annual state of the union spectacle.