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Washington Examiner


What Obama Should Say In His State of the Union

January 27, 2010

By James R. Copland, Nicole Gelinas, Paul Howard, Steven Malanga, Marcus A. Winters

Wall Street Broken Because of Washington, Not Bankers
Nicole Gelinas, Manhattan Institute senior fellow and author of After the Fall: Saving Capitalism from Wall Street—and Washington

In his State of the Union speech tonight, President Obama should say that his administration realizes that Wall Street still isn’t working for Main Street America. He has to make clear that this is a disaster for the country, because finance is the industry that’s responsible for driving investment dollars -- and jobs -- to other types of businesses. And the president should acknowledge that Wall Street’s broken condition isn’t the fault of fat-cat bankers — it’s the fault of Washington political leaders, who have failed to regulate Wall Street properly. Obama needs to state that there’s no excuse for this failure: after all, Washington regulated finance properly from the Thirties to the Eighties, so we know how to do it. And he should announce that he’s working with Congress to get a financial reform bill on his desk by the end of February.

Improve the Health Care System Incrementally
Paul Howard, director of the Center for Medical Progress at the Manhattan Institute and managing editor of

The President has to show that he got the memo from Massachusetts: voters don’t like the 2,000 page budget-busting health care bill Democrats were preparing to ram through Congress just a few days ago. Instead, Obama needs to do what he should have been doing from the start: playing “small-ball” and advancing incremental, bipartisan changes that make the existing system better by improving access, increasing competition, and making insurance more affordable. Medical malpractice reform, creating competitive interstate insurance markets, and leveling the playing field between employer-based insurance and the individual markets are all sound ideas for improving American health care.

End Trial Lawyers, Inc.’s Political Influence
James R. Copland, director of the Center for Legal Policy at the Manhattan Institute

Repairing our economy requires repairing our legal system, and protecting the rights of the truly injured is not the same as protecting the economic interests of the plaintiffs’ bar. Unfortunately, the litigation industry, which the Manhattan Institute calls Trial Lawyers, Inc., effectively controls the Democratic Congressional leadership. In his address tonight, the president should sacrifice the lawyer lobby for the common good and call for comprehensive legal reform. Doing so is good politics, since 83 percent of Americans think that our legal system makes it too easy to assert invalid claims; and good policy, since tort litigation is a drag on the U.S. economy that costs us two to three times what it costs our friends in Germany, England, and Japan.

Reaffirm the Principles of the 1996 Welfare Reform Legislation
Steven Malanga, Manhattan Institute senior fellow and City Journal senior editor

In his state of the union speech President Obama plans to emphasize helping to rebuild middle class income and security. But the President should also commit to keeping the path to the middle class open to those struggling to get out of poverty by reaffirming the principles of groundbreaking 1996 welfare reform legislation. That legislation is up for renewal later this year, and unfortunately Democratic members of Congress want to water it down by replacing the emphasis on getting recipients to the workforce with a broader emphasis on job training and education. Although these notions sound appealing, research shows that what works best at helping the poor’s economic fortunes is a rapid attachment to work. By contrast, paying welfare recipients to go to college or engage in lengthy job-training programs sounds attractive but ultimately fails because so many welfare recipients who enroll in these programs fail to complete them. Work is what works, we have found, and President Obama should reaffirm that message.

Stand Firm on “Race to the Top”
Marcus A. Winters, Manhattan Institute senior fellow

On education, President Obama just needs to stick to his guns. Last year’s stimulus contained $4 billion to be allocated under a grant competition known as Race to the Top. Under RttT states compete for cash by adopting real education reforms -- more charter schools, data-driven teacher evaluations, merit pay -- and several states have met the call, while others have kept the status quo. The moment of truth has arrived. States bleeding red ink that did not embrace education reform want their share anyway. Some worry that Obama will give in to the political temptation to spread the dollars widely. On Wednesday, the president should make clear that RttT funds will only go to states who have adopted meaningful education reform.

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