Congress and the Obama Administration ended 2015 on an up note, with bipartisan cooperation producing new laws supporting economic growth and employment. In tonight’s State of the Union President Obama should build on those successes with an offer to continue working with Congress on those same priorities.
It’s worth recapping some of the domestic policy accomplishments that came in the final months of 2015. Congress overwhelmingly passed a multiyear highway bill – the first in many years – and ended the outdated ban on oil exports. A long-awaited reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act restored state responsibility for K-12 schools while maintaining accountability.
Elected leaders avoided a government shutdown that would have roiled markets and shaken consumer confidence. The R&D tax credit was made permanent, the Export-Import Bank renewed, and expensive tax provisions of the Affordable Care Act were delayed to allow further review of these important issues.
These are welcome developments in an economy that’s growing far too slowly. GDP growth in third quarter of 2015 was just 2 percent, down from 3.9 percent in Q2. That kind of economic underperformance has sadly been the rule since the recession ended in 2009; annual GDP growth has hovered around 2 percent since then, representing the slowest recovery since the Great Depression. News around the world, especially from China, does not make for an optimistic outlook either.
True, last Friday’s employment report brought good news, with employers adding 292,000 jobs in December and unemployment staying at a relatively low 5 percent. However, even though the labor force participation rate ticked up slightly to 62.6 percent, it remains near historically low levels. Wages continue to languish due to poor growth.
The bottom line is that America’s economy can be better. Business Roundtable has urged presidential candidates, Republicans and Democrats alike, to use the televised debates to explain their proposals to strengthen the economy and accelerate private-sector hiring, starting with expanded trade and business tax reform.
Wouldn’t it be great to hear President Obama in his State of the Union and the South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in the Republican response have that sharp focus on jobs and the economy? In a world filled with threats, one sure bet is improving the U.S. ability to respond through a higher rate of economic growth.
Some pundits and partisans will be tempted to describe President Obama’s final State of the Union as the remarks of a lame-duck president trying to stay relevant. We reject that view. President Obama is still president and for 12 more months, still head of the executive branch of government. He is in a position to get much done in his remaining time in office if he works with Congress. Starting with his address tonight, he can offer continued cooperation with the legislative branch to achieve the national priorities of more economic growth and jobs.