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February 13, 2013 5:57 am
It is semi-official – the US does not face a fiscal crisis. Or at least the White House doesn’t think so. That was the most important message from President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday. This was the key line of his speech: “We can’t just cut our way to prosperity.” This was the second: “The greatest nation on earth cannot keep conducting business from one manufactured crisis to the next.”
Many will pore over Mr Obama’s ambitious wish list, which struck a contrast to the relatively modest addresses he gave last year and in 2011. It was his most unapologetically partisan State of the Union so far. Fresh from re-election and the more recent success in pushing through tax rises for the wealthiest, Mr Obama all but declared the era of big government was back.
John Boehner’s almost constantly pursed lips offered a reminder of how difficult most of it will be. With the big exception of an immigration overhaul, which received a rare bipartisan ovation, very little of what Mr Obama laid out is likely to get past the Republican-controlled House. Nor will its length and breadth alter the fact that the real game in the coming weeks will be over the fiscal sequester, which hits on March 1. Then, after that, the threat of a government shutdown on March 27.
To be sure, Mr Obama reiterated his call for a “balanced approach” on fiscal deficits that would include new revenues as well as spending cuts. But his mind was on other things.
Lots of other things.
Here is a list of what Mr Obama called for: a sharp increase in the minimum wage, universal early childhood learning, gun control, immigration reform, cap and trade to curb global warming, tougher cybersecurity laws, a new commission on voting rights, an energy security trust, comprehensive tax reform, new manufacturing hubs, a big boost to R&D spending, an infrastructure bank – and more.
If wishes were horses, Mr Obama would be two-thirds of the way towards undoing the Reagan revolution. In practice, he is likely to face a gruelling few months defending already depleted domestic budgets rather than cementing a new era of public investment.
Yet the speech offered a clear pointer as to how he intends to govern in his second term. Mr Obama emphatically rejected the largely Republican narrative of fiscal crisis – one that all but wrecked the second half of his first term. No more Mr Nice Guy, he conveyed on Tuesday. In so doing, Mr Obama made the fiscal divide between the parties look even sharper than ever.
Even by Washington’s standards, the town is feeling polarised. The big change is in Mr Obama’s swagger. On Tuesday night, Mr Obama finally called off his fruitless quest for a bipartisan Washington.
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