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Liveblogging the 2012 State of the Union

Welcome all to NPI’s 2012 coverage of the State of the Union address. We’ll be updating this post periodically throughout the President’s speech.

Various dignitaries are currently filing into the House chamber, and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) just entered the chamber to a standing ovation. Giffords looks radiant. Her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly is a guest in the First Lady’s box, along with Warren Buffet’s secretary and others.

We’ve learned that the designated Cabinet member this evening, who will not be attending the State of the Union, is Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. One Cabinet member is so designated each time the President delivers the State of The Union Address, in case of a catastrophic event and to provide continuity of government.

Following Representative Giffords, the Supreme Court Justices and Mrs. Obama made their entrances. President Obama is not far behind.

UPDATE, 6:10 PM (Ken): President Obama has entered the House chamber to sustained applause, stopping to embrace Representative Giffords and shaking Chief Justice Roberts’ hand, among others’ as he makes his way up the aisle. In a few moments Speaker John Boehner will introduce the President and he will begin his remarks.

UPDATE, 6:20 PM (Ken): The theme of the President’s speech thus far appears to be the American Dream and the promise of our nation. President Obama is striking a positive tone, with the aspirational language that we’ve come to expect .

Think about the America within our reach: A country that leads the world in educating its people. An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs. A future where we’re in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren’t so tied to unstable parts of the world. An economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded.

[…]

The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive. No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them.

The President is in his element and at his best when he dares his fellow Americans to dream and believe in the promise of our great nation.

UPDATE, 6:30 PM (Patrick): Obama talked about increasing spending on education and making it harder for students to be pushed out of our educational system and increasing student aid. He also called on states to make higher education a priority. This is beyond good, considering the policy of divestment states have pursued in regards higher education. He also mentioned some of the tragic changes to the Pell Grant and student loans which were added to the omnibus spending bill passed at the end of the year.

UPDATE, 6:40 PM (Ken): Here’s a few observations about the President’s speech so far.

The first of the President’s guests for the speech has been mentioned: Jackie Bray, a single mom from North Carolina. Judging by her reaction to the President’s remarks, it’s obvious she was unaware what he was going to say about her.

Ronald Reagan, beginning with his 1982 address, is credited with establishing the tradition of honoring special guests seated in the gallery (commonly known as the President’s box).

Vice-President Biden and Speaker Boehner have almost identical stone faces behind the President, with only Biden taking the time to applause from time to time. At least Boehner isn’t crying again.

When President Obama mentioned the need for comprehensive immigration reform, Senator McCain looked like the cat that ate the canary and had a sly grin on his face. Depending on whether or not it’s an election year, McCain might be for immigration reform. During election years he’s as reliably anti-immigrant as any conservative Republican.

The President just reinforced a conservative frame by using the words “tax relief” with regard to small business. Further enforcing Republican dogma, President Obama’s energy policy seems to include more drilling for oil, despite following up with words about natural gas and renewables.

Over the last three years, we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my Administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources. Right now, American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years. That’s right – eight years. Not only that – last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past sixteen years.

Perhaps the President needs a reminder about the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

UPDATE, 6:50 PM (Patrick): Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood perked up when Obama talked about issuing an Executive Order to speed up construction projects. Obama then went on to say that those project needed to be funded, and that we need to “[t]ake the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.” He definitely trying to come out strong for the year on the jobs front.

UPDATE 6:55pm, Ken: Here’s an overview of some of the new policy initiatives announced by the President during his remarks tonight.

  • A call for states to require all students to stay in high school until they graduate or turn eighteen. While certainly laudable, this policy wouldn’t be practical for some students whose circumstances in life may keep them from school so they can support their families.
  • Directing the Administration to open more than 75 percent of potential offshore oil and gas resources for exploration and drilling. See Deepwater Horizon disaster reference earlier.
  • Allowing development of clean energy on public lands to power three million homes.
  • Signing an Executive Order to reduce the bureaucracy that slows down construction projects. As most construction projects deal with state and local regulation, we’re curious as to the wording of this order and how it will affect our state and municipalities.
  • Legislation to Congress for a plan that will give homeowners an opportunity to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low interest rates. There would be a small fee on large financial institutions will help pay for the program.
  • President Obama asked Congress for a bill that bans the deplorable practice of insider trading by members of Congress, which is currently legal, and he pledged to sign it. NPI fully supports such a reform.

The President also ordered federal agencies to eliminate rules that don’t make sense.

We got rid of one rule from 40 years ago that could have forced some dairy farmers to spend $10,000 a year proving that they could contain a spill – because milk was somehow classified as an oil. With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk.

The President pledged to establish a Financial Crimes Unit of highly trained investigators to crack down on large-scale fraud and protect people’s investments.

He also said that he has directed Attorney General Eric Holder to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis.

UPDATE, 7:15 PM (Patrick): The President is spot on when he talks about shared responsibility. Tying together his earlier point about the economic gains of the post-World War II era (where the marginal tax rate for the wealthiest was 90 percent) to the fact that since then have created a radically more unequal tax code today), he framed the issue in stark terms: “Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that [un]common sense.”

UPDATE, 7:20 PM (Ken): President Obama just wrapped up the State of the Union on a high note, with hopeful, inspirational rhetoric echoing the beginning of the speech, when he referenced the capture and death of Osama bin Laden. The conclusion was vintage Obama and the President, as usual, nailed the delivery.

One of my proudest possessions is the flag that the SEAL Team took with them on the mission to get bin Laden. On it are each of their names. Some may be Democrats. Some may be Republicans. But that doesn’t matter. Just like it didn’t matter that day in the Situation Room, when I sat next to Bob Gates – a man who was George Bush’s defense secretary; and Hillary Clinton, a woman who ran against me for president.

All that mattered that day was the mission. No one thought about politics. No one thought about themselves. One of the young men involved in the raid later told me that he didn’t deserve credit for the mission. It only succeeded, he said, because every single member of that unit did their job – the pilot who landed the helicopter that spun out of control; the translator who kept others from entering the compound; the troops who separated the women and children from the fight; the SEALs who charged up the stairs. More than that, the mission only succeeded because every member of that unit trusted each other – because you can’t charge up those stairs, into darkness and danger, unless you know that there’s someone behind you, watching your back.

So it is with America. Each time I look at that flag, I’m reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those fifty stars and those thirteen stripes. No one built this country on their own. This Nation is great because we built it together. This Nation is great because we worked as a team. This Nation is great because we get each other’s backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard. As long as we’re joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong.

Thanks for following along with us tonight. We’ll post a roundup of SOTU analysis worth reading later tonight or tomorrow morning.