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David Charns/MEDILL

Each Obama head represents one minute of the 61-minute speech. The president spent the majority of his time on education and the economy.

Obama lays out agenda for keeping competitive edge

by David Charns
Jan 26, 2011

Rallying on a message of bi-partisanship, President Barack Obama laid out a cost-cutting agenda to members of Congress Tuesday night, including a five-year domestic spending freeze. But his main focus was on the need to be more competitive in the world marketplace.

“We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world,” Obama said. “We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government. That's how our people will prosper. That's how we'll win the future.”

The president’s annual State of the Union address lasted 61 minutes, covered 12 issues, and was interrupted by 77 bouts of applause. Emphasizing advancement toward new technologies, Obama focused on three areas that he anticipates will move the country forward: innovation, education and infrastructure.

Some of the president’s goals include having 1 million electric cars driving on American roads by 2015, and 80 percent of the country’s energy coming from clean sources by 2035.

The president also said the government must invest in education, not  by just funneling more money to schools, but by encouraging young people to become teachers.

“If we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas, then we also have to win the race to educate our kids,” the president said.

Obama noted his Race to the Top program, which he said raised the standards of education throughout the country. He also asked Congress to make the $10,000 college-tuition tax credit permanent.

Lastly, Obama emphasized the importance of a strong infrastructure, calling for new high-speed rail lines and widespread high-speed Internet. Obama hopes 80 percent of Americans will have access to high-speed rail by 2035, and 98 percent of Americans will have high-speed Internet by 2016.

To reduce federal debt, Obama proposed a five-year spending freeze. The president said the freeze would reduce the deficit by $400 billion dollars by 2021. The tax compromise reached by both parties in December will add more than $800 billion to the deficit in the same timeframe.

The president also proposed cutting spending from the Department of Defense and community programs, as well as consolidating government offices and simplifying the federal tax code.

Speaking to both Democrats and Republicans, Obama said, “We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution. We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try. We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything's possible.”

Members of Illinois’ congressional delegation said this year’s State of the Union was different from years past, not only because of the where members of Congress were sitting, but also the tone in the House Chamber.

“The fact that members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, were sitting together created a much more positive atmosphere,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, who said next to fellow Illinois senator and Republican Mark Kirk.

Durbin said the president’s remarks about consolidating the federal government surprised him.

“It’s seldom that these speeches have anything surprising, and that one surprised me,” he said. “Reorganizing the federal government is a big undertaking.”

When asked about what he would trim, Durbin said, “There are a lot of agencies in the business of keeping our food safe.” The senator reiterated food safety is extremely important, but that the multiple food regulation agencies could be combined to save money.

In a news release, Kirk said he did not think Obama said enough about budget cutting.

“Unfortunately, I heard more ways to spend tax dollars than ways to cut the budget,” Kirk said. “Republicans should support the President's efforts to consolidate the federal government and his call for ending congressional earmarks.”

Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., who sat next to Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said he feels hopeful about the president’s plan to invigorate the economy.

“We’re hoping, not just the members of Congress, but the American people are hoping, because we need to something to hang our hat on, something to believe in,” Davis said.