White House Photo Coverage 2011

President Obama had an opportunity to satisfy the vast majority of voters by making the national debt a “high priority” in his State of the Union speech. But he squandered his chance.

A Peterson Foundation poll found that 83 percent of voters want the Administration to name the national debt a high priority. And this majority is not solely driven by fiscal hawks on the right: 77 percent of Democrats and 83 percent of Independents believed that the debt should have been a high priority in the President’s address as well.

Even by just addressing the long-term debt, the President could have pleased the 94 percent of voters who thought the issue was “important” to discuss in the speech. Instead, the President’s address ignored these voters. He did not mention the national debt once. Rather, President Obama simply named 2014 a “year of action” because, according to him, “that’s what most Americans want.”

None of the proposals laid forward for the “year of action”—many recycled, and almost all short-term in scope—address the long-term debt, indicating that the President is out of touch with America.

The national debt now exceeds $17.3 trillion, or more than $140,000 for every American household. While President Obama has touted last year’s budget deal, a mere 2 percent of voters have faith that that the deal “successfully addressed the country’s long-term fiscal problems.” Eight in 10 believe that the national debt “remains on an unsustainable and dangerous path, despite the agreement.” And they are correct: Publicly held debt is on pace to exceed 100 percent of gross domestic product—widely recognized as an economically harmful level—by 2028.


So if the President were to heed these voters’ concerns, what should his “year of action” do to address the debt? Rather than add expensive and ineffective programs such as universal pre-K, the President and Congress should eliminate wasteful programs that were included in the 2014 omnibus bill. That would be a good start, but the big ticket item would be to make reforms to the entitlement programs—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. These programs are the fastest-growing drivers of the debt and if left unchecked will consume all of the nation’s tax revenue by 2048. Simply put, meaningful debt reduction cannot happen without entitlement reform.

While it’s encouraging to know that American voters want the Administration to address the debt crisis, President Obama’s speech provided them with no reassurance that the issue is on his immediate agenda. Instead of taking the opportunity to enact reforms to take the country off its fiscal collision course, the President wants to focus on short-term executive actions. Taxpayers, prepare for a year of inaction on the national debt.