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State of the Union: Goals overshadow spending restraints

President Obama’s State of the Union address met its promise for civility but the math behind his proposals didn’t entirely add up.

For all his talk of reining in federal spending and cutting the deficit, Obama proposed an ambitious spending spree ranging from new clean energy technologies to expensive bridges and high-speed rail projects. He offered very few specifics about where spending cuts would come from, and one of the ideas he offered for offsetting some of his spending — eliminating oil and gas tax breaks — couldn’t get passed by Congress when the Democrats controlled both chambers. Now Republicans, typically more friendly to industry, are in charge of the House.

Last year he proposed a three-year spending freeze that couldn’t pass a Democratic Congress; on Tuesday he proposed a five-year spending freeze.

The speech was also noteworthy for what it omitted. There was no mention of climate change and only a passing reference to financial regulation, two of Obama’s major legislative measures. There was also no mention of Guantanamo Bay, nor of gun control-issues many expected to come up in light of the recent Tucson shootings.

In describing his plans for the future, the president often left out facts that would help Americans judge the likelihood of successes. For instance, he mentioned a desire to expand nuclear, wind and other “clean” energies as he promised to make America 80 percent reliant on clean energies by 2035. But the Obama administration has only been able to achieve a single new loan guarantee for a new nuclear reactor, and Congress recently drastically reduced the Obama administration’s request for more nuclear loan funds.

And after spending billions of dollars trying to incubate the wind and solar industries, the United States last year reported its smallest number of new wind farms since 2007, well before the stimulus bill was passed. The lackluster record left the United States trailing China for the first time in wind production at the end of 2010.

The Republican responses had a few of their own omissions. Both Reps. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota criticized Obama for running up $3.1 trillion in debt in his first two years without mentioning that Republican President George W. Bush increased the national debt by $4.4 trillion during his presidency. Bachmann also criticized the stimulus program without mentioning the letters she wrote requesting stimulus funds for pet projects, as documented in the Center’s story “Stimulating Hypocrisy.”

Reprinted by permission of The Center for Public Integrity.

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