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In SOTU, Obama Fails to Address State of the National Debt

Created: 21 January, 2015
Updated: 15 October, 2022
3 min read
Issues and priorities change in Washington with the wind. Each president faces criticism and has to paint an optimistic veneer on his speeches to point out that work is still getting done.

Remember the Solyndra, Fast and Furious, IRS, NSA, and VA scandals? The point is that there is a lot to work through before something gets accomplished and that requires the president and Congress to work together. However, the national debt is something the wind has yet to blow away.

During his State of the Union address, the president devoted a couple of sentences to discuss national deficits, but did not really take on the issue of the debt itself.

"At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would crush jobs and explode deficits," Obama said. "Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in fifty years."

Many issues were brought to the fore in the 2015 State of the Union address. Unfortunately, these are issues and goals that are rarely met and either re-emerge in another State of the Union, perish in Capitol Hill negotiations, or shift as a new president takes office.

The national debt is a topic that is often raised several times a year. The downside is that like all the other issues, this one changes with time, but never goes away for good. The dollar figures never really go down, but the rate at which they rise varies from year to year. That is the point that Obama and Congress will not talk about.

It takes courage to tackle this issue. George H.W. Bush was honored by the JFK Library Foundation in 2014 because he refused to let his promises on “no new taxes” hold him back from raising $500 billion in revenue.

Bush 41 did not make the “read my lips” promise at his SOTU – it was during his campaign at the GOP Convention in 1988 - but the comparison to the current financial climate is similar enough. The former Republican president realized that the $200 billion deficit in 1990 would be worse in 1991 if things went unchanged.

The deficit, or the annual amount that is added to the overall national debt, in 2014 was $488 billion. That was seen as great news compared to previous years after the Great Recession, when the deficit was closer to $1.5 trillion on account of decreased revenue.

However, this is still half-a-trillion dollars that is added to the national debt. The debt may not be rising as much as it did during the Great Recession, but it is still rising. There needs to be a real discussion about this in Washington -- a discussion that is not happening.

Assuming there will be an annual surplus, it will have to involve some sort of tax-hike -- be it an actual increase or just removing loopholes -- and keeping spending under control. Spending has remained somewhat even since 2010. Realistically, federal spending will never dip to pre-2000 levels because government, like it or not, will not shrink that low.

The national debt may not be the top issue to some politicians, but the bottom line is that the country’s fiscal house is not in order. It will take more than a few sentences in the president’s SOTU to properly tackle the debt. It is a real issue that needs to be discussed and just because deficits are dropping does not mean it should be disregarded.

Obama’s legacy now that he doesn’t have to worry about re-election should give him some room to at least work with Republicans like Bush 41 had done with Democrats. The president needs to take this issue seriously, because the state of the national debt is something that is going to be there well after Obama leaves office.

Photo Credit: Elena Yakusheva / shutterstock.com