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The State of the Union

Progressive Priorities for a More Perfect Union

The Center for American Progress lays out the principal goals we would like President Obama to address in his speech to Congress and our country.

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, January 27, 2010. (AP/Tim Sloan)
President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday, January 27, 2010. (AP/Tim Sloan)

In his State of the Union address on January 25, President Barack Obama is likely to call upon Congress to work with him to continue the progress of restoring our nation’s economic prosperity by creating good private-sector jobs. Nothing is more important to sustaining our exit from the Great Recession than robust jobs growth. We also expect the president to reaffirm his commitment to his plan for achieving long-term, broad-based economic growth, which he developed during his run for office and which he fought tirelessly for throughout his first two years in office.

The Center for American Progress has long favored this vision for how best to produce a thriving, competitive U.S. economy for the rest of the 21st century. And we will continue to press for these progressive priorities, including new investments in education and in renewable energy and technology, reforms that bring coherence to our immigration policies, and prudent steps to craft a fiscally responsible federal budget appropriately balanced to meet our economic and national security challenges.

As we listen to the president lay out his vision for American prosperity that evening before Congress, we will also be listening to hear the members of Congress rise to take up these challenges on behalf of the American people. With that in mind, here are the key policy objectives we believe need to be more fully detailed and implemented in the coming year:

  • Tackling the federal deficit. The president is right to begin taking concrete steps to reduce the deficit. Developing a proposal that will pass Congress won’t be easy, but it’s conceivable that one can come up with something that Congress and the president could agree on if the goal is one that doesn’t mandate putting bull’s-eyes on each party’s most cherished priorities. The Center for American Progress proposed its own plan in December that we think would pass political muster.
  • Boosting economic competitiveness. Central to future U.S. economic growth and prosperity is an array of new federal economic development policies designed to help businesses, state and local governments, universities, community-based organizations, and workers come together where they all work and invest. These bottom-up, entrepreneurial-focused, regionally based federal programs need to become a more integral part of our economic competitiveness toolbox.
  • Reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Congress should focus on three critical leverage points in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act for making our schools better: improving teacher and leader effectiveness and equity; promoting greater fairness in distributing financial resources; and supporting innovative strategies to redesign schools.
  • Continuing to roll out health reform. President Obama needs to remind senators and representatives why the health reform law was necessary in this year’s State of the Union. He can cite the many benefits the law has already delivered for the American people and the many more benefits still to come in the near future.
  • Making progress on clean energy. The president should implement existing clean air protections, then turn to bipartisan legislative proposals that could make additional progress—while warning Congress that he will veto efforts to stop or delay enforcement of existing safeguards.
  • Reforming our broken immigration system. We recommend that the administration pursue a modified set of legislative and administrative priorities including collaborating with the Senate to advance targeted legislative reforms, reasserting federal primacy over immigration policy, and making immigration enforcement smarter and more targeted.
  • Trimming the defense budget. President Obama should endorse further reductions in defense spending over the next five years, push for a Unified National Security Budget, and announce that he will work with the Pentagon to implement the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy no later than June 30, 2011.
  • Getting our priorities straight in Afghanistan. The Obama administration must articulate a clear set of expectations with the Karzai government and with its international partners. They must increase internal checks and balances and broaden the governing coalition within a national government framework led by the president of Afghanistan. The United States and NATO have no choice but to accelerate their withdrawal before 2014 if the Afghan leadership doesn’t tackle these issues.

For our State of the Union policy suggestions see:

Finding Realistic Deficit Reduction by Michael Ettlinger

Exceptionally American Competitiveness by Sarah Wartell Rosen, Ed Paisley, and Kate Gordon

Education Priority Number One for Congress in 2011: Reauthorize ESEA

Touting the Benefits of Health Reform at This Year’s State of the Union by Karen Davenport

Clean Energy Progress Without Congress by Daniel J. Weiss

Smarter Enforcement, More Targeted Measures by Marshall Fitz and Angela Kelley

Scale Back the Defense Budget by Lawrence J. Korb and Laura Conley

Outlining a Strategy for Peace by Caroline Wadhams

The State of Communities of Color in the U.S. Economy by Christian E. Weller, Jaryn Fields, and Folayemi Agbede