Reality Check: State of the Union
WASHINGTON - President Obama's first State of the Union address included calls for a new debt commission, tougher rules on lobbyists and an end to the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
Here's a closer look at some of the president's statements in the context of what's happening in Congress:
Statement: This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.
Context: As a candidate, Obama promised to end the controversial policy, enacted in 1993 when President Clinton couldn't persuade Congress to allow gays to serve openly in the military. But whether Congress will go along is unclear. "Congress may not want to devote a lot of attention to a controversial social issue during an election year," says Peter Sprigg of the conservative Family Research Council, which opposes allowing gays to serve.
Statement: I will issue an executive order that will allow us to . . . (create a fiscal commission), because I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans.
Context: On Tuesday, the Senate rejected a proposal to create a bipartisan commission to recommend tax increases and spending cuts. His decision to create a commission by executive order is aimed at demonstrating his commitment to address the nation's record $1.35 trillion deficit. Despite Washington's penchant for commissions, they generally don't lead to action. A rare exception: the 9/11 Commission, which recommended intelligence and security changes in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Statement: That's why we've excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.
Context: Obama has kicked lobbyists off advisory boards, but corporate executives can serve on boards and in the administration. Also, the Office of Government Ethics says the administration has granted 17 waivers allowing lobbyists and others with ties to issues they dealt with in the private sector to serve in government.
Statement: The Senate should restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason why we had record surpluses in the 1990s.
Context: Congressional rules already state that new tax cuts or spending need to be offset. But Congress frequently waives those rules, as it did for the $862 billion economic stimulus package passed last year. Obama wants Congress to pass a law - as it did in the 1990s - making the pay-as-you-go practice mandatory. While popular with budget hawks from both parties, other lawmakers worry that such a rule could lead to cuts in popular government programs or tax hikes. "There's never been a lack of ideas about where to cut spending. There's been a lack of will to cut spending," says Tom Schatz of the non-partisan Citizens Against Government Waste.
Statement: Let's invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt.
Context: In fiscal 2008, the last full fiscal year of George W. Bush's presidency, the deficit stood at $455 billion, Office of Management and Budget says. That was before the recession. Obama said the deficit stood at $1 trillion when he took office. For fiscal 2010, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projects it will hit $1.35 trillion.
Statement: Because of the steps we took, there are about 2 million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed.
Context: Economists agree the economic stimulus package has saved jobs and boosted the economy, but the number of jobs created or saved has been hard to determine. The White House Council of Economic Advisers estimated this month that there were about 1.5 million to 2 million more jobs at the end of last year than there would have been without the stimulus. The 50 economists participating in a USA TODAY survey this month projected unemployment would have hit 10.8 percent without the stimulus, instead of the 10 percent jobless rate in December. That difference translates to about 1.2 million jobs that would have been lost but for the stimulus. Unemployment is 2 percentage points higher than Obama's economic advisers had projected a year ago while advocating the stimulus.