Obama calls for 5-year spending freeze 

Expanding on a promise to freeze discretionary spending for five years, President Obama on Tuesday pledged an ambitious reorganization of federal government to make it more nimble and cost-effective.

In a State of the Union address that offered a few big ideas in lieu of what the White House dismissed as a "laundry list" of smaller objectives, Obama exhorted members of Congress to put their new civility to work.

"What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow," Obama said. "I believe we can. I believe we must."

With that line, Obama dismissed lawmakers' gesture of comity in seating themselves in a bipartisan jumble for the speech -- which had the effect of curbing the extended partisan standing ovations of years past ?-- while challenging them to view political differences as a virtue to build on.

As part of a larger dynamic in his re-energized presidency, Obama threaded his speech with the kind of legacy-building proposals he most favors while embracing Republican-friendly initiatives that slash spending and federal regulation, reduce taxes and create jobs.

"The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can't just stand still," he said. "Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age."

Building on his earlier order to freeze federal workers' pay for two years, Obama called for a five-year freeze on nondefense spending, about 12 percent of the budget. Estimating it would ease the federal deficit by $400 billion over 10 years, Obama acknowledged to a largely muted chamber that the plan will require "painful cuts."

With a nod to Republican efforts to impose deeper spending cuts, Obama said, "I'm willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without."

Newly zealous to appear business-friendly and devise policies that spur job creation -- critical to his re-election effort -- Obama proposed an investment strategy that would serve his own political objectives alongside a larger, economic goal.

Saying "this is our generation's Sputnik moment," Obama said his forthcoming budget blueprint will include funding for biomedical research, information technology and clean energy -- all part of his push for "innovation" as a way to jump-start job creation.

To pay for it, Obama called on Congress to end tax subsidies for the oil and gas industry -- a move that would free up an estimated $4 billion. He called on the two parties to support an overhaul of the federal tax code as it applies to business.

"Get rid of the loopholes," Obama said. "Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years -- without adding to our deficit."

Noting the massive, often perplexing and costly federal bureaucracy, Obama said his administration will develop a proposal to "merge, consolidate and organize" government that will be submitted to Congress for approval.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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