President Obama will offer “concrete ideas”—with a focus on high-tech manufacturing—about how the country’s economy should be structured in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, White House senior adviser David Plouffe told the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Friday.
The president will offer “a blueprint, if you will, for how to build an America that’s built to last, that’s here to last—not a short-term economic moment built on bubbles or financial instruments," Plouffe said. "We need a durable economy and a durable country, with a real sense of what our North Stars are.”
Obama’s plan will involve specific proposals to boost workers’ skills, promote clean energy, and make the country a friendly manufacturing base. “You’re beginning to see a manufacturing Renaissance. We’ve got to step on the accelerator,” Plouffe said. “The kind of jobs we need are going to have to be a resurgence in our manufacturing sector, particularly high-tech, clean energy, health technology.”
Expect some harsh criticism for Congress as well. Plouffe did not mince words in his speech to the mayors about how gridlock in Washington damaged the economy last year, particularly in the unprecedented standoff over whether to raise the national debt ceiling. He admitted there were problems even before the debt ceiling crisis reached a fever pitch, from the tsunami in Japan to Arab Spring to the troubles in Europe. “We got into the summer and then Washington made it worse. It was a self-inflicted wound. The debt-ceiling debacle is something that never needs to be repeated again,” Plouffe said.
The close Obama adviser sounded like a parent forcing warring siblings to shake hands and apologize when he suggested that Congress actually do something this year despite the heightened rhetoric previewing the presidential election. “We’re not naïve. We understand we’re in a very divided country and we’re headed into an election year,” he said. “But the election is still 10 long months away.”
Journalists and analysts alike have opined that Congress won’t be able to do much of anything this year because of the partisan rancor. Plouffe scoffed at that. “Please, I would implore you: Demand of us, demand of Republicans and Democrats in Congress, that that is not acceptable,” he said. “We may not solve all the philosophical problems this year. I’m sure we won’t.”
There are a few items lurking that Congress will have to address, and perhaps the White House can use them as a jumping-off point for others. The Federal Aviation Administration must be reauthorized before Jan. 31, and House and Senate leaders are hoping for a resolution next week. The payroll-tax-holiday extension expires in February, but Plouffe said he expects that tax cut to continue because much of the dispute about it was resolved late last year. “We still have a little work to do, so we need your help to make sure Congress lands the plane.”
What next? The surface-transportation authorization and the accompanying federal fuel tax expire on March 31, which will require at least some attention from lawmakers. Transportation has always been a bipartisan issue, but House Republicans are talking about using it to promote more domestic drilling, a nonstarter for Democrats. Hello, standoff.
Plouffe mentioned a few other areas ripe for discussion. “We can work on education. Maybe even do something on immigration reform,” he said. That comment, which sounded almost off-the-cuff, could signal the most basic challenge from the White House to Congress: Both immigration and education overhaul at one time had significant support among Republicans and Democrats. They have since descended into partisan squabbles. If policymakers could come together even a little bit on such issues, maybe the dissatisfaction among U.S. citizens wouldn’t be so palpable.