Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mr. ‘Investment’

In his State of the Union message tonight, President Obama is likely to call for some kind of corporate tax reform. But don’t look for him to be a budget-cutter.

As we know, in the name of “investment,” Mr. Obama is proposing spending increases for education, energy, and so-called infrastructure. By the way, in the last three years, education spending has gone up 209 percent, energy spending 150 percent, EPA spending 126 percent, transportation spending 71 percent, and science spending 47 percent. (Hat tip to Steve Moore of the WSJ.) Do we need more?

Centrist Democrats are not likely to agree with Obama’s new spending plans. Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware talked to me about the need for “a culture of thrift” in a recent CNBC interview. And Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia told me that he and Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, along with more than 20 others, are going to co-sponsor the full spending and tax-reform plan presented by the president’s deficit commission headed by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson.

The best thing the president can do for competitiveness is to agree to Republican demands for much lower spending and a significant reduction in the corporate tax rate. And it will be interesting to see tonight if Obama continues to bash companies for their overseas revenues and profits — his usual mantra — or whether he accedes to territorial taxation and a repatriation tax holiday to bring foreign earnings back home where they can be invested and create jobs.

Tonight’s Republican response to Obama’s claims about the economy also will be interesting. Stocks have been surging and growth has been quickening. Fourth-quarter GDP to be reported Friday could come in around 4 percent. I would attribute this to a combination of strong private-sector corporate profits and ultra-easy Fed policy, although Obama surely will try to crow about the effectiveness of his spending-stimulus package.

Of course, the administration’s Achilles’ heel remains a sluggish employment recovery. Two years ago, when the $800 billion stimulus package was unveiled, the Obama economists predicted the unemployment rate would be 7 percent today. It’s actually 9.4 percent, even though there’s no question that the financial and economic crisis is long past.

In Rep. Paul Ryan’s Republican response tonight, and in other post-speech GOP congressional statements, it will be interesting to see the contrast between the economic plans of the two parties.