State of the Union: In Defense of Government and its Employees

By Tom Shoop

February 12, 2013

10:16 p.m. That's a wrap. Final thoughts: This was, by the standards of recent history, a clarion call for activist government, and a strong defense of the people who work in it -- at least in the national security arena. And it included a direct acknowledgment that threatening to shut down the government every few months or hold the threat of across-the-board budget cuts over the heads of federal agencies and the people who work in them is, in the president's words, a "really bad idea." Even if it was an idea he dreamed up himself.

10:05 p.m. Another ringing endorsement of both civilian federal employees and the military: "All this work depends on the courage and sacrifice of those who serve in dangerous places at great personal risk – our diplomats, our intelligence officers, and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.  As long as I’m commander-in-chief, we will do whatever we must to protect those who serve their country abroad, and we will maintain the best military in the world."

Also, a promise to cut the fat: "We will invest in new capabilities, even as we reduce waste and wartime spending."

Finally, a pledge of support for those who serve and have served: "We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families – gay and straight.  We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters, because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat.  We will keep faith with our veterans – investing in world-class care, including mental health care, for our wounded warriors; supporting our military families; and giving our veterans the benefits, education, and job opportunities they have earned."

10:00 p.m. Another direct plea for more activist government, this time in the area of cybersecurity: "Earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy.  Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks."

9:55 p.m. A genuine State of the Union rarity: A word of thanks not only for the troops, but for civilians as well: "Tonight, we stand united in saluting the troops and civilians who sacrifice every day to protect us. Because of them, we can say with confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan, and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda.  Already, we have brought home 33,000 of our brave servicemen and women.  This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead.  Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan.  This drawdown will continue.  And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over."

9:48 p.m. Obama takes some credit for the one expansion of the civilian federal workforce that draws bipartisan support: beefing up the Border Patrol: "Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my administration has already made – putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history, and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years." Also, the first plea for bureaucracy-busting: "And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy."

9:36 p.m. Obama says if Congress won't take action on climate change, he will: "I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."

9:31 p.m. "Let me repeat – nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.  It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth." A nitpicker would note that he didn't say his proposals wouldn't increase the deficit by a dime, but that they shouldn't.

9:29 p.m. An actual State of the Union plea not to shut down the government. This is what it has come to: "The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next.  Let’s agree, right here, right now, to keep the people’s government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America. "

9:23 p.m. Obama already answers the question of whether he would go there on sequestration with a resounding yes: "In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars’ worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year.  These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness.  They’d devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs.  That’s why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as 'the sequester,' are a really bad idea."

9:20 p.m. "The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem.  They don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue.  But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party."

9:18 p.m. And the state of our union is -- wait for it -- "stronger." Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it beats "weak" or "weaker," I guess. 

9:10 p.m. Obama enters, and the members of Congress who have been holding their aisle seats for nine hours finally get their payoff. 

9:01 p.m. Weird to see John Kerry leading the way as the Cabinet members enter the House chamber.

8:45 p.m. Tonight's designated absentee among Cabinet members is Energy Secretary Steven Chu. He's already a lame duck, so he'll no doubt be relaxed tonight. Let's just hope he's not having too much fun

6:15 p.m. ET According to excerpts of the speech released by the White House, here's one theme President Obama will hit tonight: "It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth."

I'll be online tonight, watching and analyzing the State of the Union address in real time. Check this space for updates, and to chime in with your thoughts. 


By Tom Shoop

February 12, 2013

http://www.govexec.com/federal-news/fedblog/2013/02/state-union-live-blog/61259/