I rise to express my deep disappointment in the address by the president last night in this chamber.
Twenty years ago, President Clinton was in a similar position. He realized his policies weren’t working - they had just been overwhelmingly rejected by the voters and he faced the first Republican Congress in 40 years.
So in his State of the Union message 20 years ago, President Clinton changed course, proclaiming, “The era of big government is over.” He made good on that proclamation. He reached across the aisle to the Republican Congress, and together, they achieved some amazing things for the American people.
Together, they reduced federal spending by a remarkable four percent of GDP. They reformed entitlement spending, in Bill Clinton’s words, “ending welfare as we know it.” They approved what amounted to the biggest capital gains tax cut in American history. They produced the only four balanced budgets that we’ve seen in 50 years.
And the economy blossomed. We enjoyed one of the longest periods of economic expansion in our nation’s history.
It wasn’t a bi-partisan love-fest; they clashed bitterly on matters great and small. Yet their accomplishments produced prosperity for our nation and assured President Clinton’s popularity that endures to this day.
President Obama thus has a working, proven model to salvage the last two years of his failed presidency. And instead, he is squandering it.
The president says he wants to sock it to the wealthy by placing new and heavy taxes on investment. But the simple truth of the matter is that when you tax something – you get less of it. When you tax investment, you get less investment, at precisely that time when our economy desperately needs greater investment for more and better paying jobs.
A smaller percentage of our people are working today than at any time in more than 30 years. Until last year, median family income had fallen throughout this administration.
The American people don’t want more government hand-outs. They need more jobs – better paying jobs - and that means more investment – not less.
They need a job market that isn’t flooded with millions of illegal immigrants undercutting their wages and opportunities. Indeed, it was recently estimated that the number of illegal immigrants working in direct defiance of federal law is roughly equal to the net increase in jobs under this administration. Most Americans are not getting ahead.
We now suffer the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world, and American businesses are fleeing from it. Who would have thought that socialist Sweden would today be considered a tax haven compared to the United States? Our people need those American jobs back in America.
Yet the president seeks to raise taxes still further at a time when the federal government is already extracting record tax revenues from our people. The percentage of our economy now consumed by federal taxes is well above the 40-year average. Our economic problems are not the fault of taxpayers for not paying enough taxes.
The president says he wants to help the middle class, but the proposals he set before us last night would drag the middle class still further down the dark road of debt and doubt and despair we have been on.
If higher taxes and more burdensome regulations were the path to prosperity, we should today be enjoying a new economic Golden Age. If higher government spending and soak-the-rich policies were the antidote to income inequality, we should today be enjoying an egalitarian paradise.
The reality is these policies have never worked. They have suppressed what should have been a robust economic recovery. They have increased the income inequalities in our society. They have buried our children under a mountain of debt that will stalk them the rest of their lives.
The answer to income inequality and economic stagnation is genuine economic growth and that requires reducing burdens government has placed on the economy. It worked when Bill Clinton did it - when Ronald Reagan did it - when John F. Kennedy did it. He was right: “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
Yet Barack Obama clings obstinately to the opposite policies. It should not surprise us that he is getting the opposite results. He had a fleeting opportunity last night to bend to the will of the voters, reverse these policies and redeem his place in history.
Instead, Whittier’s words seem appropriate this morning: “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been.’”