Inauguration Day: Talk is Cheap

January 16, 2013

Every four years, Americans gather near the U.S. Capitol to hear the Inaugural address. Past presidents have
used the opportunity to provide a glimpse into upcoming policies and legislation. All presidents have set goals
that promised a better future as a nation and as individuals. With January 21 marking the beginning of the
Obama administration’s second term, the president should be direct about the changes he intends to
implement.

LIVING WITHIN OUR MEANS
Living within our fiscal means is no new discussion in Washington. Several presidents have used the
Inaugural stage to set the scene for financial discipline.


President Reagan:

1981: “You and I, as individuals, can, by borrowing, live beyond our means, but for only a
limited period of time. Why, then, should we think that collectively, as a nation, we are not
bound by that same limitation?”1
1981: “Is it time to reawaken this industrial giant, to get government back within its means,
and to lighten our punitive tax burden. And these will be our first priorities, and on these
principles, there will be no compromise.” 2

President Clinton:

1997: “We need a new government for a new century, a government humble enough not to
try to solve all our problems for us, but strong enough to give us the tools to solve our
problems for ourselves. A government that is smaller, lives within its means, and does more
with less”3

DIFFICULT CHOICES
There comes a time when we all must make difficult decisions. However, recent presidents often made vague
promises with incomplete follow-through.


President Reagan:

1985: “We have come to a turning point, a moment for hard decisions.”4

President H.W. Bush:

1989: “We have more will than wallet; but will is what we need. We will make the hard choices,
looking at what we have and perhaps allocating it differently, making our decisions based on honest
need and prudent safety.”5

President Clinton:

1993: On lowering the deficit: “It will not be easy; it will require sacrifice. But it can be done,
and done fairly, not choosing sacrifice for its own sake, but for our own sake. We must
provide for our nation the way a family provides for its children.”6

ACCOUNTABILITY
Accountability has always been an essential driving force behind fixing spending problems. However, recent
presidents seem more inclined to pass the buck than take responsible direct action.


President Reagan:

1985: A dynamic economy, with more citizens working and paying taxes, will be our
strongest tool to bring down budget deficits.”7

President Clinton:

1997: “And once again, we have resolved for our time a great debate over the role of
government. Today we can declare: Government is not the problem; and government is not
the solution. We, the American people, we are the solution.”8

President Obama:

2009: “Those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account—to spend wisely,
reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day—because only then can we restore
the vital trust between a people and their government.”9

CONCLUSION
As we look forward into the next four years, let’s take another look at the numbers. With national
debt steadily increasing at $16.43 trillion and unemployment hovering around 8 percent, there are
still many problems for Washington to solve.10 The debt limit has moved into the focal point of
conversations and there still remain the imperative issues of entitlement reform and spending cuts.
However, until an agreement to cut spending can be reached between congressional leadership and
the president, talk is cheap.

  1. Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Address by Ronald Reagan, 1981. http://www.inaugural.senate.gov/swearing-in/address/address-by-ronald-reagan-1981
  2. Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Address by Ronald Reagan, 1981. http://www.inaugural.senate.gov/swearing-in/address/address-by-ronald-reagan-1981
  3. Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Address by Bill Clinton, 1997. http://www.inaugural.senate.gov/swearing-in/address/address-by-bill-clinton-1997
  4. Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Address by Ronald Reagan, 1985. http://www.inaugural.senate.gov/swearing-in/address/address-by-ronald-reagan-1985
  5. Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Address by George H.W. Bush, 1989. http://www.inaugural.senate.gov/swearing-in/address/address-by-george-h-w-bush-1989
  6. Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Address by Bill Clinton, 1993. http://www.inaugural.senate.gov/swearing-in/address/address-by-bill-clinton-1993
  7. Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Address by Ronald Reagan, 1985. http://www.inaugural.senate.gov/swearing-in/address/address-by-ronald-reagan-1985
  8. Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Address by Bill Clinton, 1997. http://www.inaugural.senate.gov/swearing-in/address/address-by-bill-clinton-1997
  9. Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Address by Barack Obama, 2009. http://www.inaugural.senate.gov/swearing-in/address/address-by-barack-obama-2009
  10. U.S. Department of the Treasury. Treasury Direct: Debt to the Penny. Accessed January 15, 2013. http://www.treasurydirect.gov/NP/BPDLogin?application=np

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