By Fred Benson
The president: “Mr. Speaker, members of Congress, and my fellow Americans. During his final State of the Union message last year, former President Barack Obama urged Americans to reject the divisive politics extant in the United States and build a ‘clear-eyed, big-hearted and optimistic’ nation. He acknowledged that he was not able to achieve the level of constructive dialogue with Congress that he had envisioned when first elected, and admitted that, while he would try his best, there was little likelihood that much would be accomplished in his last year in office to achieve the results he had hoped for.
“Unfortunately, he was correct.
“But in clear and convincing tones, he did outline an important roadmap for our nation by posing four questions: ‘First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?’
“‘Second, how do we make technology work for us, especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?’
“‘Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?’
“‘And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?’
“It would be hard for any of us to disagree that these are four of the more important issues to be addressed by this new administration and Congress. But when it comes to identifying specific proposals to achieve the goals inherent in those questions, the devil is always in the details.
“In the attempt to answer these four questions, it would become easy to allow politics as usual to muddy the water so much that little is accomplished. We must not let that divisive style of governing continue. The rest of my address tonight will outline how I plan to set the stage for the actions I believe necessary to find creative answers to these important questions.
“We have for a number of years been living in the midst of a broken government. Partisanship is at a peak, positions have become extremely polar and civility among – and respect for – those in the political world is at an all-time low. In the next few days, I will go to Capitol Hill to meet with congressional leaders of both parties and suggest that we agree on higher standards of conduct in fulfilling the constitutional responsibilities demanded of both branches of government. What I will propose is that a collegial environment based upon conscientious debate, complete candor, mutual respect and consummate integrity be adopted as the new norm for dealings between the White House and the Capitol.
“As president, it is incumbent upon me to set the example to achieve that heightened state of cooperation. To do so, I wish first to express my appreciation to my party for its nomination and to those who voted for me to become president. As of this moment, however, I declare myself to be the president of all Americans whether they were supporters or not. I will not be bound by party positions, and I will make every presidential decision based solely on what I see as offering the best solution for the betterment and security of our society.
“I will expect everyone in my administration to act accordingly, and those found to have departed from that standard will be dismissed. I urge the congressional leadership to establish the same commitment to higher levels of collaboration.
“As a first step, I am announcing that next week, the senior leadership of both parties of Congress will be invited to meet with me and cabinet-level department and agency heads to launch a process to create an updated list of top national priorities. In subsequent monthly meetings, progress on each of those highlighted matters will be discussed in an effort to find common ground and plan routes to success to achieving our common goals.
“As for the first three questions posed by President Obama last year, the answers will be determined by how we realign our national priorities. To that end, I am proposing a far-reaching and challenging experiment. I will ask Congress to amend the 2017 budget process by extending it to cover 2018 as well.
“With the longer preparation time made available for budget planners, I propose that we conduct a zero-based analysis where all budget categories and line items must be re-justified and refinanced. Once completed, the resultant 2019 budget will be a completely new document having benefited from the elimination of obsolete and redundant line items. In essence, this will allow the United States to reprioritize all discretionary and nondiscretionary spending programs.
“Tax reform will be a key part of this process. This is a huge task, but it is long overdue.
“I am well aware that there are those who will find this agenda too radical a departure from traditional governance. To them I say, if you seek a better life for all U.S. citizens and a safer world for all people, bold changes are demanded. It will take everyone in this chamber to get the job done. Let us start here and let us start now.
“Thank you, and may God bless America.”
Fred Benson is a resident of Mount Desert and publishes Capitol Commentary, an independent political newsletter.