— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) February 13, 2013
Obama proposed quite a lot during his State of the Union Address last night, but a few of his claims are...sketchy. Not necessarily false, but definitely deserving of scrutiny. Here are the biggest State of the Union headscratchers:
All these proposals are paid for (supposedly)
Tonight, I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago. Let me repeat – nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.
This is Obama's big political card: Republicans constantly hit him for wanting to spend money (it's a good go-to: literally every government policy costs something), so Obama attempted to undermine that from the start. What Obama didn't explain is how none of this will add to the deficit, because some of what he proposed will involve more spending. There were some cuts and revenue increases in there as well, so maybe the sum of all deficit adjustments in the State of the Union = 0? Maybe, but someone should check that math.
Transparency on targeted killings is coming...maybe
The Obama Administration has been getting some much-deserved heat over targeted drone strikes, and these issues came to the forefront at John Brennan's confirmation hearings last week. Obama responded to these concerns in his State of the Union:
That's why my administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism efforts. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word for it that we're doing things the right way. So in the months ahead, I will continue to engage Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.
Let me take this one sentence by sentence. Obama's administration has indeed worked hard to carve out a legal framework for targeted killings. It was this legal framework that caused such a stir: it stated that the Obama Administration can kill anyone that has demonstrated violent intentions toward America in the past (as long as they haven't demonstrated nicer ideas towards America more recently), provided apprehension and detention are too difficult where they are. This includes American citizens. As for keeping Congress informed, Senators such as Ron Wyden (D-OR) were demanding more information be released as recently as the Brennan hearings, so "fully informed" sounds less than true. That brings me to "no one should take my word for it." Well, Mr. President, that's exactly what your administration has asked us to do since you became president.
The targeted killings program is a sensitive spot for the Obama Administration. Their main buffer is that the Democrats are the party who would normally be upset about this, but some of them are defending Obama as one of their own or staying out of the fight. The Obama Administration has done very little detaining, a whole lot of targeted killing with plenty of unintended casualties, and this deserves a more public vetting.
So the United States will join with our allies to... realiz[e] the promise of an AIDS-free generation.
This is a wonderful goal, and one that would be truly life-altering for Sub-Saharan Africa. It's worth fighting for, and I hope the Obama Administration redoubles its foreign aid efforts. So why is this on the list? Because without specifics, it sounds more like a wishlist item than a policy proposal. How about a percent increase in foreign aid? A program proposal? An agreement with the E.U.? There may in fact be something substantial, but without any hint as to what that would be, we could sub out "AIDS-free generation" for "cure cancer" or "end tribal war."
Then again, it's likely that whatever Obama wants to do here, it won't involve Congress' approval, so there's no need to lean into this one for political gain. He can just score his points and move on.