WASHINGTON – For President Obama, Tuesday night – the State of the Union message – marks the beginning of the hard part. Campaigning is over, and he now must engage the corner of the job he enjoys least: governing.
Because of neglect, even evasion of office, Obama finds himself in a deep hole. What else explains the constitutional void in which Obama dwells where he has arrogated to himself the power to assassinate by drone Americans overseas, along with those innocents who have the bad luck to be in the building.
This after beginning his first term by promising to close Guantanamo and accord Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 planner, all the legal rights of a citizen at a public trial in downtown Manhattan.
The early line on the speech is that he will offer inspiring rhetoric on creating jobs. Even after fine-tuning the Labor Department's data, the new normal is 8 percent unemployment; but with real joblessness, including those who left the work force, it is something close to 14 percent.
The president has spent four years erecting a Potemkin Village – fake storefronts – of committees to push manufacturing and exports whose meetings he rarely attended. Obama wasted his first term without making any fundamental changes in the way we combat Asia's illegal trade assaults on what are left of our factory jobs after promising in 2008 he would get really tough on China's cheating.
The president will offer lofty goals on firearm safety and immigration, but he is left without political or practical options on stimulating the economy by using such government programs as public works spending. There is no money for it.
Now that the Republicans have allowed the Bush tax cuts to expire, the ball on cutting the deficit is totally in the president's court and the country is facing another crisis on sequestration – mandatory budget cuts in defense spending and on domestic discretionary programs. With a March 1 deadline looming for mandatory spending cuts, upstate New York's economy – reliant on income support, welfare and social service programs – will be affected only marginally. Most health and welfare programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid, child nutrition and food stamps, are exempted from sequestration.
The non-defense hits of up to 10 percent a year will be absorbed by federal administrative personnel ranging from food and drug inspectors to air traffic controllers, disease control and employees at suburban Washington's massive health research facilities.
Half the cuts – up to $50 billion in just the first year – will be in defense. Even though sequestration is mostly a Washington, D.C., bureaucracy issue, it still ties the president's hands, blocking new spending programs. Community Development Block Grants, which troubled cities like Buffalo need to tackle problems, face a 10 percent cut. Some establishment economists predict a deeper recession if sequester comes; others disagree. But for those 24 million-plus out of work, can it get worse?
Add to this new estimates of the cost of his health care program – almost a third higher than estimated, and rising instead of falling (as promised) insurance premiums. Private job creators, especially in high-tax states like New York, are facing a vast nullity behind those dazzling Obama storefronts.
Under a heavy push from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York adopted the most stringent gun safety standards, with tight reporting rules, in the nation. Something to be proud of. Implementation is another story, though. The General Accountability Office said last week that New York is among 16 states that failed to submit to the Justice Department a report on how it intends to enforce a 2006 law that tracks people who commit sexual abuse.