Tonight Is President Obama’s Last State Of The Union
Tonight, President Obama will give his final State of the Union address. Over the past seven years, Obama has delivered great speeches and covered a range of topics. Here’s a summary of some of the themes from the last seven years, including updates on how those issues are progressing in 2016:
2009: Jobs and recovering from the Great Recession. Though technically not a State of the Union since it occurred less than a month into his presidency, President Obama focused on jobs in his 2009 address to the joint session of Congress. After being handed the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, President Obama has presided over a record-breaking 70 months of job growth, during which American businesses have added 14.1 million jobs to the economy. Under President Obama, unemployment has dropped to 5 percent, a decrease of 5 percentage points, and is now near pre-recession levels.
2010: Affordable Care Act and health insurance reform. Nearly 2 months before the Affordable Care Act became the law of the land, President Obama discussed the need for health insurance reform in his 2010 State of the Union address. Since the ACA went into effect, 17.6 million people have gained health insurance coverage as a result of the law. Even after surviving two partisan attacks in the Supreme Court, the ACA has brought Medicaid expansion to more than half of the states and has ushered in the lowest uninsured rate on record. And thanks in part to the reforms included in the ACA, the growth in healthcare spending has been the lowest on record for the past few years.
2011: The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. In his 2011 State of the Union address, just a month after he signed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, President Obama highlighted that 2011 would be the first year in which lesbian, gay, and bisexual people could serve openly in the military. Under DADT, thousands of soldiers had to serve under a cloud of anxiety and isolation. Since that 2011 State of the Union, marriage equality has become the law of the land in all 50 states, after a Supreme Court ruling in 2015. However, LGBT people are still not fully and clearly protected from discrimination at the federal level or in 31 states: even in 2016, LGBT people are still at risk of being fired from their job, denied housing, and refused goods, services, or even medically necessary healthcare simply because they are LGBT. This is why Congress must pass the Equality Act, which will provide nationwide comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBT people throughout daily life.
2012: High school graduation rates and education reform. President Obama emphasized the need for increasing the high school graduation rate and for reforming the education system in his 2012 State of the Union address. In 2015, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a major education reform which will replace No Child Left Behind. ESSA will help protect at-risk students by preserving annual assessments and the use of data to ensure that students are not falling through the cracks. It makes improvements to No Child Left Behind by allowing states and districts to use additional measures of school and student success beyond test scores to measure progress. And, the high school graduation rate in 2015 was the highest on record.
2013: Immigration reform. In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama underscored the need for immigration reform, urging Congress to send him an immigration reform bill. In the summer of 2013, the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill. However, the Republicans in the House refused to even take up any form of immigration reform. The lack of reform leaves over 11 million unauthorized immigrants who call the United States home at risk of being detained or deported at any moment, and of having their families ripped apart. It also prevents a cumulative $1.2 trillion over the next decade in GDP growth. DAPA and expanded DACA are on hold after a lawsuit by conservative lawmakers, leading to an injunction blocking these initiatives. On Friday, the Supreme Court will decide if they will hear the case United States v. Texas. DAPA, DACA, and expanded DACA would help nearly 5 million people and blocking these initiatives costs the United States $8.4 million every day. Yet, newly minted Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced that he would not work with the Obama administration on immigration policy.
2014: Acting on climate. 2014 was a landmark year for climate action in the United States, and President Obama kicked off the year with a climate focus in his fifth State of the Union. One of the main highlights of 2014 was the proposal of the Clean Power Plan, the Environmental Protection Agency’s landmark rule to cut dangerous carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants. The rule has since been finalized and has helped position the United States as a global leader in the fight on climate change. And thanks in large part to U.S. leadership, a global climate deal was reached at the UN climate talks in Paris earlier this year.
2015: Childcare, paid sick leave, and paid family leave. In his 2015 State of the Union, Obama focused on economic issues that particularly impact families. Obama asked Congress to pass legislation that would address the rising costs of childcare and provide workers with paid sick leave and paid family leave. But Congress has yet to act, even though our current policies are outdated. Only 40 percent of private sector workers have paid sick leave. The United States is the only developed country without paid maternity leave. And, child care fees for two children in a child care center exceed annual median rent payments in every state.
BOTTOM LINE: President Obama has addressed many progressive issues in his previous State of the Union addresses. And though its true progress has been made on some of these issues, there is still much more to be done. So let’s recognize the moment when President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress for one final time; but let’s also not forget there is still another year of his presidency to make progress.
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