Emac's Bottom Line

Lower Your 'State of the Union' Expectations

Time to visit the highlight reel of President Barack Obama’s past State of the Union addresses, as the president speaks to the nation Tuesday night.

Keep in mind the operative words here are “lower your expectations,” because the President has made all sorts of promises that didn’t pan out.

And not just because of a recalcitrant Congress, where the Democrats have controlled the Senate the entire time the president has been in office, and where the Democrats have controlled the House from January 4, 2007, to January 5, 2011. 

Before we get to the highlight reel, which comes with a fact-check from FOX News analyst James Farrell, here are the broader themes to watch for, as the speech will set the tone for the presidential election.

What works best in creating jobs, what is best for the U.S. economy?

Will the presidential election be about the morality of business success versus the morality of government spending?

Are you better off now versus four years ago, which is what Republican candidate Ronald Reagan asked President Jimmy Carter to damaging effect?

Why is consumer confidence in the government’s economic policies at its worst level since the Nixon era, according to the University of Michigan?

Did the president really inherit this recession, given that Vice President Joe Biden and Democrat Rep. Charles Rangel have been around since the Nixon era; Sen. Max Baucus has been around since the Carter administration; Sen. Harry Reid, Sen. John Kerry, Rep. Steny Hoyer, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and Rep. Barney Frank have been in federal government since the Reagan White House, and Democrat Sen. Daniel Inouye has been in office since 1962?

The president seems to be in a constant fight with the GOP to borrow more money to get the government to create jobs and fix the economy. The expected storyline for the campaign here is that GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney is in the nasty 1% that has set out to destroy jobs versus his narrative, that the government saves or creates jobs.

The federal government spent about $4.6 trillion on his watch — equal to Germany and South Korea — for things like subsidizing Solyndra and other solar companies, for bailing out Wall Street or Detroit, after GM and Chrysler were sucked dry from cushy union contracts and the government’s CAFÉ standards.

If Romney becomes the GOP nominee, the president is expected to dub him “Mr. 1%,” a corporate scavenger, due to his time at private equity shop Bain Capital, even though leading Democrats such as Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Tom Daschle, Wesley Clark and John Edwards have all spent time at private equity after leaving public office, among others. (see EMac’s Bottom Line, “Private Equity and the Political Left”)

And also ignoring the fact that government and private worker pensions have invested 43% of their funds with private equity firms, according to research — with nonprofits investing $1 out of every $10 in donations with them, too.

About a fifth of the companies Bain worked on closed or declared bankruptcy, says a Wall Street Journal analysis.

But how many of these failures flopped because Bain dangerously leveraged them up?

Which ones would have failed anyway, despite Bain’s restructuring, due to globalization and technological change?

Meanwhile, is it fair to say that 1.9 million net jobs have been lost on the president’s watch, that the labor force is smaller than when he took office?

Did health reform, Dodd-Frank, and the government’s myriad other reforms and programs stifle job creation, given that members of Congress admit they don’t read their own bills?

Are small businesses rightfully afraid of what’s coming next from D.C. and from the White House?

Should America instead cheer prosperity and wealth creation? Is that what is needed to create jobs, help pay for government programs for the poor, and pay interest costs on $15 trillion in government debt, now at $450 billion annually? 

Isn’t the alternative to private market failures really a choice between bankruptcies or bailouts, and which is better?

The government is still adding to the $15 trillion in debt, not counting the government’s takeover of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, even though they are government companies being used to fund government bailouts of housing and to pay for extensions of the payroll-tax cuts, via increased fees.

Is it healthy for the country that the Federal Reserve has turned itself into one big junk bond investor, a giant hedge fund that was supposed to be the lender of last resort to banks, but is now bailing out nonbanks like AIG, has bought all sorts of junk assets from Bear Stearns as well as mortgage-backed securities, and is helping to bail out whole economies here in the U.S. and in Europe?

Wouldn’t you agree this is not the new normal, but the new abnormal? 

Should the focus be that taxpayers shouldn’t want the federal government wasting anymore tax money from even rich Democrats or Republicans, including Democrats such as George Soros, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Teresa Heinz, Eli Broad, Herbert and Marion Sandler, Robert Rubin, Paul Allen, Barry Diller, Herb Kohl, Steve Ballmer or Sergey Brin?

President Obama will revisit his individual tax hike on the rich, termed the “Buffett Rule,” making sure that billionaires like Buffett pay their fair share. Even though the president so far has only discussed letting the Bush income tax cuts expire — which wouldn’t affect Buffett or other billionaires who pay little in the way of taxes, and instead shelter their income or pay at the lower capital gains rate.

You’ll hear a lot about wealth inequality, too, and the need to raise taxes on the upper bracket, which already shoulders the lion's share of federal taxes.

However, income inequality data are skewed, for one, because 401(k) accounts are not reported on tax returns. Also the poor aren't stuck in poverty, and the rich don't always stay in the upper brackets. 

A 2007 Treasury Department study cited by the St. Louis Federal Reserve shows more than half, 58%, of U.S. households in the lowest-income level in 1996 moved to a higher bracket by 2005. And of households in the top 1% in income in 1996, more than 57% sunk to a lower-income group by 2005.

Here’s what the President said in last year’s State of the Union address, with analysis from FOX News analyst Farrell. Again, operative words here are “lower your expectations”:

"I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies."

Nope – the breaks still exist.

"By 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources."

Not according to the EIA report released today, unless you include coal as a "clean energy source" – a statement that would make environmentalists' heads explode. The DOE projects that, in 2035, coal will account for 39% of electricity generation (compared to 27% for natural gas, 16% for renewable, 18% for nuclear and 1% for oil). 

"So tonight, I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system.  Get rid of the loopholes.  Level the playing field.  And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years –- without adding to our deficit."

Sorry - corporate tax rate still the same. 

"We can start right now by correcting a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses."

The president did sign the legislation removing the 1099 requirement from the health care law. But on his watch, health reform had an unprecedented, radical provision that would have buried the system in an avalanche of tax paperwork. Beginning this year, the provision would have forced all companies, big and small, to issue 1099 tax documents for goods and services not just to contract workers, but to any taxpayer or company they work with for tiny sums amounting to just $600 each. That would have required millions of new tax forms each year — even from freelancers who, say, bought an Apple laptop and iPhone.

"We’ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges.  We’ll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based [on] what’s best for the economy, not politicians."

The proposed $175 billion in spending on roads, school repairs and other infrastructure, including the $10 billion for a National Infrastructure Bank, died with the defeat of the president’s summer jobs bill.

"Now, the final critical step in winning the future is to make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt."

That mountain grew by $1.2 trillion since January 25, 2011. It grew a total of $5 trillion on the President’s watch.

Note: The president also said this in his January 27, 2010, State of the Union address: "Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don't. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will."

Back to the 2011 State of the Union address:

"I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit - worth $10,000 for four years of college."

The American Opportunity Tax Credit is still set to expire at the end of this year.

"To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations.  We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market."

No reform of Social Security yet.

"And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply can’t afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break."

Well, he did ask. Repeatedly. Unfortunately, he did not voluntarily give up his own tax break in his 2010 taxes.

"In fact, the best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to simplify the individual tax code."

The IRS's Taxpayer Advocate agrees and is still waiting for something to be done. In her December 31, 2011 report to Congress, she stated: "The Internal Revenue Code has been growing longer and more complicated by the year – and sometimes by the day."

Elizabeth MacDonald joined FOX Business Network (FBN) as stocks editor in September 2007 and is the author of Skirting Heresy: The Life and Times of Margery Kempe (Franciscan Media, June 2014).