Bill Owens: So, The State Of The Union

Feb 8, 2018

Reading the right and left’s reaction to President Trump’s State of the Union speech was nothing short of boring.  Go back eight years to President Obama’s first State of the Union speech and re-read the comments, largely the exact opposite from each side.  Go back eight years from then to President Bush’s first State of the Union speech and the comments reverse again, go back eight years to President Clinton’s first State of the Union, and the comments reverse, yet again.  Predictability is boring.  Recently, President Trump said Democrats who didn’t clap for him might be treasonous, so what does he think a Member of Congress who yelled “liar” at President Obama is?

Although the general reactions to the speech were predictable, there was very little objective analysis of whether or not the proposals made by the President were sound policy.  The commentary focused on the political likelihood of success, and the political reactions to the policy.

Let’s just explore a couple.  The DACA proposal is, in my view, not an unreasonable place to start.  Although I personally don’t think the wall is worthwhile, it could be a valuable job’s program.  The likelihood that it will contribute to decreasing illegal immigration is highly unlikely, as even much of the President’s administration believes that those funds would be better spent on technology and advances, rather than a wall.  He is the President, he needs to appease his base, and so, in my view, let them have the wall.  What really troubles me about the immigration question, is the proposals that would keep out the skills that we need to be added to our economy.  It is also a very short-term policy.  It should be fairly obvious to all, that it is going to be a significant uptick in the need for people like homecare aids, aids in hospitals and nursing homes, which are jobs that have frequently been filled by immigrants, because they pay reasonably well but are incredibly difficult jobs to do both physically and emotionally.  These are entry level positions, just like the jobs 100 years ago that were filled by the immigrants of those generations.  Many came from………….countries and include Members of Congress, the Judiciary, Corporate CEO’s and on and on.  It is the lack of forethought and analysis which troubles me more than a particular policy if it were grounded on facts and analysis, even if I didn’t agree, I would nevertheless understand how the conclusion was reached. 

Infrastructure.  It seems like a no-brainer.  First, there is no doubt that our infrastructure is aging and deteriorating.  Second, there is no doubt that the federal government will have to be a major participant in this process.  Third, since much of the infrastructure is roads and bridges, there is no doubt that an increase in the gasoline tax which could be devoted to these projects and would be a rational way to proceed.  The idea that states and municipalities, as well as partnerships will get the job done, is simply unrealistic.  The idea sounds good, but the implementation plan seems lacking. 

Now back to the politics.  As I said in the beginning, the responses are solely related to which side of the political spectrum one comes from.  It also reflects the fact that we have an evaporating group of moderates in politics.  This is likely to be heightened in the 2018 elections, either by replacing the thirty or more Republicans who are retiring with more right-leaning members of Congress, or a major shift in Congress to Democrats who will likely, in most cases, at least lean towards the progressive side. 

My real question is, “What will each of us remember two weeks from now, a month from now, about the President’s speech?” I am betting, not much. 

Mr. Owens is a former member of Congress representing the New York 21st, a partner in Stafford Owens in Plattsburgh, NY and a Senior Advisor to Dentons to Washington, DC.

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