Politics and Public Opinion

Ask the scholars: State of the Union

Image: U.S. Army (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)

Image: U.S. Army (Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)

As President Obama’s State of the Union address draws nearer, I asked some scholars at AEI what they hoped the president would discuss in his speech and where they see issues going in the year ahead. The economy, sequestration, and entitlement programs are predicted to feature prominently in Obama’s rhetoric, with national security relegated to the background.

Entitlement programs

AEI’s Andrew Biggs hopes President Obama talks more about entitlements, especially with 10,000 baby boomers set to become beneficiaries to these programs rather than contributing to them. Biggs ascertains that rising entitlement costs are a huge factor in the deficit.

According to Biggs, Social Security used to be the main entitlement program, but Medicare and Medicaid have now commanded more attention. With prices continuing to rise, he thinks it’s time to start considering Social Security a short-term rather than long-term problem:

Joseph Antos believes Obama needs to talk about the government’s role in rising health care costs. While Obama’s goal to insure more people was worthwhile, the subsequent cost of health insurance for everyone is a concern.

Antos states that one of the major challenges for the government is the rapid growth of Medicare. If this issue isn’t addressed, Antos believes this will result in a serious policy failure. By Christmas Eve of 2013, he believes we will see a legislative package that he hopes will bring about a balanced policy.


Edward Pinto says the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is in perilous condition. He believes President Obama needs to address reform in this area, before taxpayers are forced to pay for the government’s mistakes. According to Pinto, FHA has a history of “financing failure”.

Pinto explains FHA reform is difficult; while there is talk about limiting government’s role, regulations are bringing about the opposite effect.

Tax reform

Aparna Mathur hopes Obama will focus on tax reform. With the debt ceiling debate this May, the sequester, and the expiration of President Bush’s tax cuts, there are many issues that remain unresolved. The debate between tax increases and spending cuts will continue to create division along party lines.

Mathur hopes parties will come together to collectively lower the headline tax rate. There is consensus that tax rates are a problem which has yielded America uncompetitive in light of other countries lowering tax rates.

Foreign policy

Danielle Pletka believes the State of the Union starts with the front page, which is the economy. National security may be mentioned in the context of sequestration and America’s military readiness. She also believes President Obama will push policy to pivot toward Asia.

Pletka suggests America will pursue more of Obama’s priorities in national security. She suspects the US will step away from its foreign pursuits. She believes there will be an America in retreat and in decline.

Public opinion

Karlyn Bowman explains while Congress isn’t explicitly looking for public opinion trends, they do play a crucial role in issue-based politics, and public opinion is always a consideration for members of Congress.

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