WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama pleaded with Democrats during his State of the Union address late Wednesday to revive health care reform, and expressed frustration with members of both parties over stalled legislation. “To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills.”
“We still need health insurance reform,” Obama said. “Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close.”
Obama called on lawmakers to “take another look at the plan we’ve proposed,” reminding them that the Congressional Budget Office has said the health bill would reduce the deficit by as much as $1 trillion over the next two decades.
“I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people,” he said in an apparent reference to the legislation’s recent stall.
Obama openly expressed frustration with Republican lawmakers. “Just saying ‘no’ to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership,” Obama said as Democrats cheered.
As expected, Obama addressed a broad range of issues, from Iraq to education, but tied nearly everything back to jobs – which he said “must be our number one focus for 2010.”
He also defended the bailouts to large financial firms. “If there’s one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, it’s that we all hated the bank bailout,” he said. “But when I ran for president, I promised I wouldn’t just do what was popular; I would do what was necessary.” He added that most of the loans have already been recaptured.
He also promoted what he called the success of the Recovery Act. “After two years of recession, the economy is growing again,” he said, adding that stimulus efforts have added two million jobs to the market.
In further efforts to stimulate the economy, Obama proposed a new small business tax credit for those that hire or increase pay, and the removal of all capital gains taxes on investments in small business.
When discussing his plan to address the growing debt – which the budget office recently reported would hit $21 trillion by 2020 – Obama said, “For some on the right, I expect we’ll hear a different argument, that if we just make fewer investments in our people, extend tax cuts for wealthier Americans, eliminate more regulations, and maintain the status quo on health care, our deficits will go away,” he said to laughter from Democrats. “That’s what we did for eight years. And we cannot do it again.”
He remarked that he took office with a $1 trillion deficit and that the deficits over the next decade were predicted to accumulate to $8 trillion. “Let’s state the facts,” he said. “Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program.”
Obama said he plans to freeze non-defense discretionary spending for three years, beginning in 2011. Twenty billion dollars has been cut from next year’s budget already.
The freeze has already been widely criticized as inadequate. Indeed, the $250 billion in expected cuts over the next decade is dwarfed by government spending, which exceeded $3 trillion in 2009 alone.
Obama said that tax cuts for oil companies, investment fund managers, and those making more than $250,000 would be discontinued. “We just can’t afford it,” he said.
On climate change, Obama stood his ground. “I know there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence,” he said to laughter. He tied the issue back to jobs, saying that those who don’t believe in climate change can still believe that clean energy development will spur economic growth.
Obama also touted as part of a comprehensive energy plan the importance of oil, coal and nuclear power to a standing ovation from the Republicans.
On education, Obama pushed again for a bill that would erase generous bank subsidies to distribute student loans, and said he would use the saved money to increase Pell Grant funding and extend to students at four-year universities a $10,000 tax credit. One million students would only have to pay 10 percent of their student loans, with their debt forgiven after 20 years.
“One of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education,” he said.
He reminded the nation that all American combat troops are scheduled to be out of Iraq by the end of August. “Make no mistake, he said, “this war is ending and all of our troops are coming home.” Democrats erupted in applause.
And in the war on terror, Obama took a swipe at the last administration, saying that far more al-Qaeda members and “affiliates” have been killed last year than in 2008.
Obama closed the speech with a modest tone that contrasted with the hope he exuded during his campaign for the presidency. “I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone,” he said. “Democracy in a nation of 300 million people can be noisy and messy and complicated.”