"No Side Issues, No Drama"? Gov. Daniels Ploughs Ahead With Both In State Of The Union Response

January 25, 2012 3:55 pm ET — Kate Conway

While much of the content of last night's State of the Union — talk of domestic energy development, American manufacturing, preventing the outsourcing of American jobs — sought to find an audience across party lines, its language often hinted at a subtle rebuke of Republicans' obstructionist governing tactics and divisive rhetoric. Americans don't believe anything will get done this year, Obama said, "because Washington is broken." He repudiated "the way Congress does its business," singling out Senate filibusters of qualified nominees, and pointed to last year's debt ceiling "fiasco." In a jab at House Republicans' behavior in December, he asked that a yearlong extension of the payroll tax cut be passed with "no side issues" and "no drama."

Congressional Republicans predictably dismissed the president's remarks as a "campaign speech," but Gov. Mitch Daniels' (R-IN) response proved that, if nothing else, the president's frustration with the GOP's intransigent partisanship is based in reality. For something billed as a "response," it was nothing of the kind — Daniels was responding to a phantom speech and a phantom president that the GOP has constructed as a figure to run against: a divisive, anti-business proponent of class warfare. Let's take a look.

DANIELS: When President Obama claims that the state of our union is anything but grave, he must know in his heart that this is not true. The President did not cause the economic and fiscal crises that continue in America tonight.  But he was elected on a promise to fix them, and he cannot claim that the last three years have made things anything but worse: the percentage of Americans with a job is at the lowest in decades.  

It may be politically expedient for the GOP to build a narrative of imminent national collapse in order to present the 2012 election as a choice between a Republican and national ruin, but factually, Daniels' picture of an economy continuing to spiral downward doesn't hold up. There's been a solid 22-month trend of job growth in the private sector that indicates things are, slowly, improving. The president pointed that out in his speech. Unemployment is also at its lowest level since February 2009.

DANIELS: [Obama] seems to sincerely believe we can build a middle class out of government jobs paid for with borrowed dollars. In fact, it works the other way: a government as big and bossy as this one is maintained on the backs of the middle class, and those who hope to join it.

In reality, government employment has decreased over the course of Obama's presidency. Daniels is lying, plain and simple. And part of what's undermining the strength of the middle class and driving increasing income inequality — in addition to the effects of a deep recession — are tax policies that favor capital gains and other income skewed towards the wealthy.

DANIELS: Contrary to the President's constant disparagement of people in business, it's one of the noblest of human pursuits.  The late Steve Jobs — what a fitting name he had — created more of them than all those stimulus dollars the President borrowed and blew.

For all that Steve Jobs contributed, he did not create more jobs than the Recovery Act. President Obama, for his part, also mentioned Steve Jobs in his speech, in a way that's not exactly a "disparagement" of business.

OBAMA: You see, an economy built to last is one where we encourage the talent and ingenuity of every person in this country. That means women should earn equal pay for equal work. It means we should support everyone who's willing to work; and every risk-taker and entrepreneur who aspires to become the next Steve Jobs. After all, innovation is what America has always been about. Most new jobs are created in start-ups and small businesses. So let's pass an agenda that helps them succeed. Tear down regulations that prevent aspiring entrepreneurs from getting the financing to grow. Expand tax relief to small businesses that are raising wages and creating good jobs.

Daniels wasn't done.

DANIELS: The extremism that stifles the development of homegrown energy, or cancels a perfectly safe pipeline that would employ tens of thousands, or jacks up consumer utility bills for no improvement in either human health or world temperature, is a pro-poverty policy.

A significant portion of the president's speech was dedicated to proposals to expand "homegrown energy" production. Obama did steer clear of the Keystone XL pipeline in his State of the Union, but Daniels' account of its rejection is problematic. First, claims about its potential as a job creator are vastly overblown. Second, the president rejected the pipeline after the GOP forced a "rushed and arbitrarily deadline" by tying the decision to crucial payroll tax legislation.

And finally:

DANIELS: In word and deed, the President and his allies tell us that we just cannot handle ourselves in this complex, perilous world without their benevolent protection. Left to ourselves, we might pick the wrong health insurance, the wrong mortgage, the wrong school for our kids; why, unless they stop us, we might pick the wrong light bulb!

As Steve Benen points out, "Obama had just finished talking about cutting red tape and eliminating unnecessary regulations; the Affordable Care Act guarantees consumer choices in health care coverage; and the light-bulb bill the right is still whining about was a bipartisan success signed by Daniels' former boss: George W. Bush."

Of course, the turnaround time between the president's speech and Daniels' was incredibly short, so Daniels can be forgiven for remarks light on detailed analysis of exactly what Obama said. But his failure to address reality instead of some invented Obama concocted by the GOP is inexcusable.