When I sat down to listen to the president Wednesday night, I had a checklist of topics that worried me. I am very pleased and relieved that the president addressed many of my concerns. But some of my questions remain unanswered and it is hard not to be concerned that there won't be enough resources to create the jobs that millions of Americans need. Now I'm going to be scrutinizing the budget he releases Monday to understand what, exactly, his proposals will include.
In his first State of the Union address, President Obama actually talked about the state of the union. He gave voice to our hopes and values, but he also sees what I see:, economic devastation. "One in 10 Americans still cannot find work. Many businesses have shuttered. Home values have declined. Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard. For those who had already known poverty, life has become that much harder." He acknowledged that for decades before this painful recession, families saw their wages shrink. When they could, they worked more hours to keep up; in the recession, many lost hours, if not their jobs.
I was also glad to hear the president accurately lay out the sources of the recession - a decade of financial speculation instead of investment, abetted by a federal government that increased the concentration of wealth in few hands through recklessly unaffordable and inequitable tax cuts and a refusal to regulate.
I'm thrilled that the president believes the federal government should play an active role to spur and shape economic growth. Job creation and family economic security are his twin top priorities and he was firm in exhorting Congress not to "run for the hills" but to enact jobs, health care, and financial reform legislation to help the middle class.
Perhaps the single best news of the night was that the president did not waver in his call for health care reform. He continues to see clearly that reversing the long-term trends that have eroded the middle class require that our people are secure in having affordable health care. He rightly sees how close we are to accomplishing this goal and that it would be unconscionable for Congress to walk away from it.
While its great that President Obama called for public investment in jobs and education, I will be watching the details of his proposals closely. I am pleased that he would invest public dollars in innovation, infrastructure, and renewable energy. He would prepare the workers of today and tomorrow through greater access to higher education, telling us that the "best antipoverty program in the 21st century is a world-class education."
He did not weaken his resolve to pay for the investments we need in part through ending the Bush tax breaks for the wealthy, for corporations that ship jobs out of the country, and for hedge fund managers.
The president is certainly right in recognizing that hard times call for hard choices. It is not yet clear whether his budget choices are the most effective means of creating jobs and expanding the middle class. The president understands the dimensions of the nation's hardships, and he knows the causes of our hardships. But his remedies do not appear to be as well-targeted or well-funded as they should be to lead to a faster reduction in joblessness while meeting the needs of our most distressed communities.
Investments in education and child care are welcome and badly needed. But it is less clear that the president will propose adequate investments to open up essential routes to employment for millions of poor Americans - jobs targeted to rebuild communities that have experienced the most devastation and on-the-job training for the poor and unskilled.
The president did not talk about the damage to families and the economy from the severe cuts occurring in states. If aid to states does not continue, the loss of services and jobs will get even worse. It would be a painful irony if Congress finally enacts expansions in health care that start in 2014 while ending Medicaid help that states still desperately need now.
The freeze he would impose on domestic spending may prevent the supports people need to be part of the economic growth the president seeks. Exempting military spending from the freeze may mean that wasteful programs entirely unrelated to our war effort or the safety of our military personnel escape deserved cuts. I will look at the president's budget next week to judge whether its investments are adequate and it meets the needs of vulnerable populations.
The president was clear in recognizing that reforms to health coverage, immigration, financial regulation, and fair tax policy are integral to sustainable and shared economic growth. He also sees the legions of powerful lobbyists arrayed against these needed reforms and tells us that he cannot do it alone. He is right. People across the country must demand change, loudly and repeatedly. If we are merely spectators, powerful interests will preserve the status quo at our expense.