Close Guantanamo. End the Iraq war. Tax the rich. Increase nuclear power. Drill for oil in the Atlantic.
President Obama called for all these initiatives and more in previous State of the Union speeches. Some came to pass; others did not.
Tuesday’s State of the Union address is likely to be similar in scope — filled with political wish-list items, some strikingly ambitious considering Congress is now controlled by Republicans. But when a president makes such pledges — be it to add a million jobs, to freeze spending or to cut red tape — should taxpayers believe the claims or dismiss them as political hype?
A look back at his past addresses may help answer that question.
Renewable energy: In 2009, the president said his economic recovery plan would “double the nations’ supply of renewable energy in the next three years.”
That didn’t quite happen. The share of renewable power in the U.S. increased from 10.62 percent in 2009 to 12.6 percent in 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Deficit reduction: Obama also pledged to “cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term in office.” On that count, he eventually did — though it took a year longer than he promised. The deficit fell to $680 billion in 2013 from $1.41 trillion in 2009.
College graduation rates: “By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world,” Obama said in 2009, when just 41 percent of Americans graduated from college. That number now stands at 43 percent, a two-point gain in six years and one of the slowest growth rates in the world, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. It ranks the U.S. behind Russia, South Korea and Canada. The College Board ranks the U.S. 12th out of 36 countries.
He also planned to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay and open universal tax-free savings accounts for all Americans. Both efforts failed to fly in Congress.
Nuclear power: In 2010, the president promised to “build a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in the U.S.” That didn’t happen.
Program cuts: “We will continue to go through the budget line by line to eliminate programs that we can’t afford,” the president told Congress in 2010. That, too, didn’t materialize.
The Congressional Budget Office outlined $100 billion in useful spending cuts in 2009. The Office of Management and Budget identified wasteful and non-performing programs totaling another $100 billion in 2013. The Government Accountability Office identified $37 billion in duplicative programs in 2011.
Spending freeze: “Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years,” the president told Congress in 2010. For the most part, that happened. The federal budget remained about $3.5 trillion during that period.
A promise to “change the tone of our politics” was not as successful. Polls show an increase in partisanship among voters and many blame the president, whose latest Gallup approval ratings hover around 45 percent.
He also famously said ObamaCare “would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan.” That wasn’t true.
But Obama did promise to regulate the banks, reform federal student aid and increase taxes on the rich. All became law.
Immigration: “We should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration,” Obama said in 2011.
While he never convinced Congress to pass immigration reform, Obama acted alone, passing a series of executive actions on immigration last November.
Tax reform: In 2011, Obama said the U.S. should “simplify the individual tax code,” but he did nothing to push the issue. On Tuesday night, he is expected to call for more taxes on the top earners, on investments and inheritances.
Outsourcing punishment: In 2012, the president promised to “stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas.” That effort went nowhere as the White House did not pursue corporate tax reform in Congress, even though the president said it remained a priority in his 2013 and 2014 State of the Union speeches as well.
Regulation elimination: In 2012, the president said, “I’ve ordered every federal agency to eliminate rules that don’t make sense.” The White House says it followed through, eliminating dozens of outdated rules, governing everything from the handling of spilled milk to warm air hand dryers.
However, the 2013 Federal Register contained 78,891 pages, 70 new laws and 2,898 new rules, according to a study by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which says U.S. households “pay” $14,768 annually in hidden taxes from unnecessary regulations.
Obama also wanted to “cut through the maze of confusing training programs” to reduce government waste and duplication. According to the Government Accountability Office, the federal government spends $18 billion a year on 47 overlapping job training programs.
Oil and gas drilling: In response to higher gas prices, in 2012 the president said, “Tonight I’m directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources.” He did, but the statement is misleading, since the Atlantic Ocean, and most of the Pacific and Alaskan waters, remain off limits. According to the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Management, 85 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf in the lower 48 states is not open for exploration or drilling, including 45 percent of the Gulf of Mexico.
Al Qaeda: In 2013, Obama said, “The organization that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self.” A year before, he said, “Al Qaeda operatives who remain are scrambling, knowing that they can’t escape the reach of the United States of America.” In 2009, he said “We will forge a new and comprehensive strategy … to defeat Al Qaeda and combat extremism.”
Despite U.S. efforts, including stepped-up drone strikes, many argue Al Qaeda and particularly its affiliates are more powerful today, not less. Even in the Middle East, voters tell Pew Research, Islamic extremism, including Al Qaeda and its affiliates, are a growing threat.
Health spending: In 2013, the president lobbied for support for ObamaCare, promising to “bring down costs by changing the way our government pays for Medicare.” He did. Medicare spending slowed from 7.7 percent to 5.3 percent, according to a new report by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
A State of the Union speech is a mix of policy and politics, aspirations and accomplishments. After six years in office, Obama has overseen an improving economy — though middle class wages remain flat. Proposals for corporate tax reform and universal preschool remain in limbo.
While there is partisanship and disagreement on almost every issue, this 2013 statement could be the exception. “Our government shouldn’t make promises we cannot keep, but we must keep the promises we’ve already made,” Obama told Congress.
Nevertheless, Tuesday’s address may include many promises even he knows cannot be kept.
William La Jeunesse joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in March 1998 and currently serves as a Los Angeles-based correspondent.