Washington DC- U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) released a statement following the President’s State of the Union address:
“Tonight President Obama delivered a forward looking, optimistic State of the Union Address that highlighted the progress our nation has made during the last seven years while acknowledging the substantial challenges we must confront in order to move the nation forward in the coming years. Seven years ago our nation was standing on the edge of an economic cliff that had not been seen since the Great Depression. In January of 2010 the unemployment rate was 9.7% nationally and 8.6% in Pennsylvania. Today, the unemployment rate is down to 5% nationally and in Pennsylvania. When President Obama took office 800,000 Americans were losing their jobs each month. The most recent jobs report saw 292,000 jobs created in December of 2015 and marked 14 million jobs created over 70 straight months of private sector job growth- the longest streak in our nation’s history. Today, 17.6 million Americans have health insurance coverage due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including children who no longer can be discriminated against by insurance companies because of a preexisting condition; the number of Pennsylvanians without health insurance has dropped by hundreds of thousands. Investments in early learning are increasing and our K-12 education system has been reformed to emphasize local control and learning instead of over-testing. Abroad, the Administration has reinvigorated our nation’s diplomatic power while aggressively seeking to dismantle terrorist networks. Our brave soldiers are leading a global coalition that has shrunk ISIS’ hold on previously held territory by 30%. And during a difficult and complex time for the world the Administration has brought together the international community to finally begin to tackle climate change.
While President Obama and his Administration are to be commended for their work to achieve this progress, our nation also faces significant challenges domestically and internationally that will require action in the next year and the years to come. Among the challenges are the need to grow middle class incomes, to put in place a comprehensive Pre-K program, to make college more affordable and to destroy terrorist networks that seek to do harm to Americans. When it comes to the issue of raising incomes the Economic Policy Institute laid out the challenge in a recent report. The report showed that the increasing productivity of workers is not resulting in increased hourly earnings. From 1948 through 1973 productivity increased by 96.7% and hourly compensation increased by 91.3%- an almost perfect alignment. Since then worker productivity has increased by 72.2% yet hourly earnings have only increased by 9.2% meaning that productivity has grown 7.8x more than pay. In order for incomes to increase and for our nation to move forward, Congress has to step up. There are too many challenges before our nation for Congress to just spend the next year waiting to see who the next President will be.
Congress should build on its work of K-12 reform by strengthening and expanding opportunities for quality early learning, by expanding child care funding and enacting my comprehensive Pre-K legislation, the Prepare All Kids Act. Last year I was able to secure the first Senate vote on a near universal Pre-K bill. Congress owes it to children in need of early learning to tackle this issue and try again. When a child learns more earlier in life they earn more later. Enacting my legislation to fund comprehensive Pre-K will put our most vulnerable children and our economy on a stronger footing. Last year I unveiled an expanded Child Care tax credit that would more families receive these benefits. Helping more families pay for child care though measures such as my expanded child care tax credit amendment will directly boost incomes and benefit our entire economy.
Congress should also move to reduce the debt burden on college graduates. A college degree is one of the single best tickets to the middle class- it shouldn’t come with a lifetime of debt. This year I will also be pushing Congress to get off the sidelines in the fight against ISIS and finally debate an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the terrorist group. It’s time to end oversight by sound bite and categorical condemnations that are not followed up by plans when it comes to our battle against these terrorists and take concrete actions that put a chokehold on ISIS’ financing while also taking steps that increase security at home. For example, Congress should reform the Visa Waiver program and ensure that those on the terror watch list cannot purchase firearms. As we have seen in Pennsylvania, our law enforcement officials are on the front lines of protecting the homeland from lone wolf attacks inspired by terrorist groups, and we need to make sure they have the resources and training necessary to confront this threat. I’ll be pressing the Administration to hold the Iranian regime accountable. In terms of Iran it comes down to implementing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) well, enforcing it like hell, countering Iranian aggression in the region, and deterring. In a letter to the Administration in December, I called upon the Administration to hold Iran fully accountable for its recent test of ICBMs and I will continue to press the Administration to take appropriate steps.
Our nation has traveled a substantial distance from the depths and darkness of January 2009. While the progress is to be commended, the work of growing middle class incomes, investing in early learning, reducing student debt and achieving security at home and abroad confront us. These are endeavors worthy of a great nation. If Congress approaches these challenges with a spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation, then 2016 can be a truly productive year for the American people.”