Role of Government Questioned After State of the Union

What is the proper role of government? With record deficits and an unemployment rate hovering just below 10%, what is the best way to spur economic growth? Readers …

What is the proper role of government? With record deficits and an unemployment rate hovering just below 10%, what is the best way to spur economic growth? Readers debate these questions. See the following article from Money Morning for more on this.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to the country on Jan. 25 in the annual State of the Union address, an assessment of the nation’s biggest issues.

Before the speech, many analysts were afraid President Obama would make broad optimistic statements – while offering no concrete plans for improvement. 

White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett said last week that one of President Obama’s main messages would be to highlight the new "bipartisan spirit" in Washington."

Tonight’s speech is all about winning for the future," Jarrett said in an interview with ABC News the day of the speech. "That’s a bipartisan message, it’s something everyone can get around."

But with a 9.4% unemployment rate, a $1.3 trillion budget deficit, and federal borrowing estimated to hit the debt limit of $14.3 trillion as early as March 31, most Americans wanted to hear how and when the country’s economic outlook would improve.

What they got was a speech highlighting increased investment in clean energy, infrastructure and innovation. President Obama said the country was experiencing another "Sputnik moment," and detailed a plan for the United States to "win the future." 

Republicans have criticized President Obama’s expansive use of the word "investment," especially in cases where it’s clearly a euphemism for "increased spending."

This prompted last week’s Money Morning "Question of the Week": How would you rate U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address? Did he adequately address economic issues? What parts of his speech did you agree or disagree with? Did he change the way you feel about the year to come? Are you more hopeful – or less hopeful – about the country’s economic future?

The following comments convey a range of opinions on President Obama’s speech, from support of his vision to frustration with the current role of government in the United States. While many readers wrote in with such critiques as "total B.S.," "waste of time," and "lackluster," others felt the president successfully tackled the arduous task of explaining what the country should focus on to "win the future."

Well Executed Speech

It was an excellent speech. He was trying to navigate some very rough political waters, however, and such a speech is always rather general. I thought he did a particularly good job of explaining the need for continuing investment in economically productive assets such as infrastructure and education, and pointing out that last year’s legislation on health insurance and the financial industry were primarily driven by abuses and fraud in those industries. We live in a very large and complicated country, however, and our problems rarely lend themselves to simple, one-dimensional solutions. Let’s hope that our political leaders (particularly hyper-partisan Republicans) can muster the patriotism needed to put the interests of the country first and seriously address our problems.

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– Lewis T.

I felt Obama was right on target in his talk. I felt he struck the right balance of bipartisanship, and a resolve not to undo what had been accomplished in the first two years of his presidency. He admitted that we have too many regulations that are no longer relevant, and that our tax code is too complicated.

Most Democrats I know also want a smaller, leaner government. Like Republicans and Tea Party folks, we do not want our tax dollars wasted. However, we feel that the United States has lagged behind other world powers in important areas such as education, mass transit and alternative energy development. Our attention to climate change has been inadequate, and our use of energy is very inefficient compared to other industrialized countries. These areas need strong federal policy to drive them, and that is what Obama is trying to accomplish.

The healthcare legislation passed in 2010 is beginning to gain traction as more people understand the benefits. This market-based solution is already improving the bottom line for some of the big health insurers. It gives stability to our system by requiring everyone to have health insurance, just as we are all required to have auto insurance.

– Tom M.

This country has been in a funk for a long time, and something has to happen to get America off dead center. Fear won’t do it. That’s been tried for the last decade. We’ve got to do something, and Obama is trying to bring this nation together and move it forward, something that fear will not accomplish. The deep dark picture painted by the Republican response to the State of the Union was so depressing compared with the goals Obama has set for America – to get us off dead center. We’ve lost confidence in can-do Americanism because of all the fear mongering.

It’s time to move forward!!

– Barton L.

State of the Union: Failure

The president needs to be re-educated on what the role of government is. It isn’t what was proposed in the State of the Union address. The president would take away subsidies from the oil companies but would subsidize alternative/clean energy. Since when is it the role of the government to pick winners and losers in the public marketplace? Why can’t government get out of the way and let the free markets decide? Neither should be subsidized. If it has merit, then business will want to support it for the business and profits it produces. If the ideas are not worthwhile, they won’t. Why does government get to pick the winners and losers? That is not its function in a free society.

We are being forced by government to accept these newer eco-friendly light bulbs by no longer being offered the old incandescent bulb created by Thomas Edison. Why is this being forced on us? Too often these newer, better products turn out to have major problems or issues of their own and then it becomes too late to go back to the perfectly serviceable old product which we had been using for more than 100 years because it is no longer offered because the government banned it. Why not offer both and let the public pick what they want? If the newer, better version is really newer and better, then the public will go for it. If it is not, then they won’t.

I am tired of this nanny state mentality where the government thinks the American people are too stupid to make decisions on their own about what is right in their lives.

– Barbara R.

To have Obama address the nation in such a vague manner in full campaign mode is fundamentally unacceptable. His job description is as the leader of our nation, but he has done almost nothing to address our number one issue – that of the economy. What has the man done to stimulate free enterprise, which is where he should be expending most of his leadership ability? What has he done to stimulate investment in this economy? What has he done to advance transparency in government? Did he encourage Sen. Harry Reid [D-Nev.] to allow an up or down vote regarding healthcare in the Senate in order to receive the true mandate of the American people? No. Why not? Because he doesn’t give a rip about the mandate of the people. He only cares about his preconceived agenda for the country.

Wake up, America. Get involved.

– Tom P.

Letter grade is "F."  President Obama needs to restart his arithmetic schooling.  If the 2011 deficit is $1.5 trillion, "cutting" $400 billion over 10 years ($40 billion yearly) cannot possibly "reduce the U.S. debt." Do the math – $40 billion is less than $0.1 trillion, so U.S. debt increases to $1.5 trillion in 2011.

All the dreams about high-speed rail, more education spending, etc. are like a person
maxed-out on all their credit cards looking at Rolls-Royces  because they are an "investment."
– Doug B.

[The following comment is in response to the above remark by reader Doug B.]

So, Mr. B finds investing in America’s future a zero sum game.  Perhaps he’d be more comfortable continuing the usual "conservative" agenda:  Let banks and money manipulators enrich themselves while adding nothing to the GDP; or maybe just engage in a couple of more wars somewhere to sustain jobs in the military/industrial complex. 

As usual, the right wing is contemptuous of anything progressive but unable to offer any solutions themselves.  Fear solves nothing!

– T.Trainor

This article was republished with permission by Money Morning.

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