Focus on: State of the Union

President Barack Obama during Tuesday's State of the Union address.
President Barack Obama during Tuesday's State of the Union address. AP

Investments doable

For much of his State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama preached austerity. He called for a five-year freeze in domestic spending, but he acknowledged significant deficit reduction requires more painful measures, such as reining in the costs of Medicare and Medicaid. If Obama's speech reflected the growing influence of the Tea Party it also displayed the president's continued eagerness to spend on infrastructure, high-speed rail, clean energy and research and development. For all the talk about Obama tacking to the center, he is — rightly — hewing to the principle that judicious government spending can promote economic growth. There is a conflict between the president's "investment" goals and his expressed desire to cut government spending. But prudent government could allow for both.


Battle has been joined

It's hard to pass judgment on President Barack Obama's broad-brush plans until we see his numbers, due with his budget proposal Feb. 15. If you stuck around to hear the Republican response from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, then you know that, on Tuesday night, an epic battle was joined. The struggle to sustain federal spending (as many Democrats want) or to slash it (as newly elected Republicans have sworn to do) likely will be the deep national divide of 2011, as it was in 2010.


Didn't do what's needed

The reality is that the country is headed for fiscal catastrophe unless it does some politically unpopular things. President Barack Obama knows this, but he did little to prepare Americans for any of it. In his first year in office, Obama said he couldn't confront the nation's long-term fiscal peril because of imminent financial collapse. In his second year, he said he needed health-care reform first, to "bend the curve" of rising costs. He called for a bipartisan commission to study the debt and promised to pivot in his third year to fiscal reform. Now that commission has reported, but Obama didn't fully endorse any of its recommendations. How can he expect public support if he hasn't made the case for austerity? From the man who promised to change Washington, it seemed all too drearily familiar.