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So much for “the era of big government is over.”
The nation’s last Democratic president declared such in his 1996 State of the Union address, though many at the time questioned his sincerity in the midst of a re-election campaign. Yet he joined Republican leaders in Congress to balance the federal budget and create years of economic growth, until that was derailed by the 2001 terrorist attacks.
So who would have thought conservatives today would look back on the Bill Clinton years as the good old days?
Now in 2013, another Democratic president seems to believe the era of big government is just beginning.
President Barack Obama didn’t pull any punches Tuesday in his fifth State of the Union. He promised a lengthy list of domestic spending plans: universal preschool, a minimum wage increase, a cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions, infrastructure investments, new housing incentives, manufacturing incentives, energy plans, paycheck equity, a chicken in every pot and a cow in every barn — all intended, he said, to boost the economy by growing the nation’s middle class.
If you could hear the cash register ringing as he spoke, you weren’t alone.
And this comes at a time when the budget is about as balanced as a drunk on a tight wire; the nation’s debt has ballooned to $16 trillion, with a T. And the two political parties are hunkered in separate trenches unwilling to bend even slightly to the other side to work out their differences.
The president knows this. He knows Democrats control the Senate, Republicans the House, and that most of his ideas are DOA. The one exception is immigration reform, where his rare venture into sensible, compromise proposals could actually yield a bipartisan solution.
On everything else, he is floating big ideas that will be shot down one by one, some by members of his own party. Meanwhile, the “fiscal cliff” our fearless leaders skirted at the start of the year is again on the horizon. Without a budget deal, a series of automatic budget cuts will kick in across the spectrum of federal government.
To which, many conservatives now say, OK, fine. If that’s the only way we can start draining this endless sea of red ink, so be it. But nearly everyone agrees there needs to be a better way.
Obama still believes budget cuts without corresponding tax hikes won’t control the debt and grow the economy, despite the fact the New Year’s deal already raised some taxes, and that Republicans are willing to consider trimming tax deductions that would increase revenue.
But as many economists point out, as did Sen. Marco Rubio in his GOP response, raising taxes on wealthier wage earners will barely put a dent in the deficit. Obama, it seems, is less concerned with whittling down the debt than he is finding an ATM to fund government expansion.
Yet again, what the president and his followers fail to understand, or admit, is that the only way to boost federal revenue to fund such needs, while cutting the deficit, is to grow the economy. Expanding the private sector, not the public, will put more Americans to work, raise everyone’s paychecks and spark consumer spending that could fill government coffers with tax dollars. More money for us, more money for government, win-win-win.
But Obama the social engineer doesn’t believe in bottom-up growth but top-down policies to orchestrate what industries get to grow and who benefits. If government can’t cherry-pick who profits from a healthy economy, he’s not on board.
Take his proposal to boost the minimum wage to $9 an hour. It doesn’t take a Nobel Prize in economics to know that such a hike would force many small businesses to cut jobs or raise prices to offset the rise in payroll costs. Either solution would depress economic growth, not boost it.
The president said no one supporting a family should have to live on minimum wage. True; that’s why few do. Of the 5 percent of American hourly wage earners who earn at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25, half are age 25 or younger, most of them teens in entry-level jobs and most unmarried, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many such earners work part-time, and most are able to supplement those meager incomes by earning tips in the hospitality business.
Rather than help “struggling families,” the president’s proposal, if enacted, would send more teens out on the streets jobless than buy groceries for working families.
Obama knows this; he’s a smart man with access to all this information. As with most State of the Union speeches, the goal is to float “feel-good” ideas that are not grounded in reality, and likely won’t see the light of day.
It’s no coincidence his speech came on Mardis Gras, conjuring an image of him riding high on his float, throwing candy and beads to the eager masses.
But the nation needs substance, not empty calories. His Fat Tuesday was a menu of false promises and failed ideas that won’t rouse a sluggish economy nor avoid the austere budget cuts awaiting in two weeks when the party comes to abrupt end.