Staff and Wire Reports
WASHINGTON -- Pleading for unity in a newly divided government, President Barack Obama implored Democratic and Republican lawmakers to rally behind his vision of economic revival for an anxious nation, declaring in his State of the Union address Tuesday night: "We will move forward together or not at all."
To a television audience in the millions, Obama addressed a Congress sobered by the assassination attempt against one if its own members, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Her seat sat empty, and many lawmakers of competing parties sat together in a show of support and civility. Yet differences were still evident, as when Democrats stood to applaud his comments on health care and tax cuts while Republicans next to them sat mute.
In his best chance of the year to connect with the country, Obama devoted most of his hour-long prime-time address to the economy, the issue that dominates concern in a nation still reeling from a monster recession - and the one that will shape his own political fortunes in the 2012 election.
The president unveiled an agenda of carefully balanced political goals: a burst of spending on education, research, technology and transportation to make the nation more competitive, alongside pledges, in the strongest terms of his presidency, to cut the deficit and smack down spending deemed wasteful to America.
Yet he never explained how he'd pull that off or what specifically would be cut.
Obama did pledge to veto any bill with earmarks, the term used for lawmakers' pet projects. Boehner and other Republicans applauded.
But Obama's promise drew a rebuke from his own party even before he spoke, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the president had "enough power already" and that plans to ban earmarks were "a lot of pretty talk."
Obama's proposals Tuesday night included cutting the corporate tax, providing wireless services for almost the whole nation, consolidating government agencies and freezing most discretionary federal spending for the next five years. In the overarching theme of his speech, the president told the lawmakers: "The future is ours to win."
Yet, Republicans have dismissed his "investment" proposals as merely new spending.
Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, giving the GOP's response, said the nation was at a tipping point leading to a dire future if federal deficits aren't trimmed. Ryan was to promote budget cuts as essential to responsible governing, speaking from the hearing room of the House Budget Committee, which he now chairs.
Obama entered the House chamber to prolonged applause, and to the unusual sight of Republicans and Democrats seated next to one another rather than on different sides of the center aisle. And he began with a political grace note, taking a moment to congratulate Boehner, the new Republican speaker of the House.
Calling for a new day of cooperation, Obama said: "What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight but whether we can work together tomorrow." On a night typically known for its political theater, the lawmakers sometimes seemed subdued, as if still in the shadow of the Arizona shootings.
Many in both parties wore black-and-white lapel ribbons, signifying the deaths in Tucson and the hopes of the survivors. Giffords' husband was watching the speech from her bedside, as he held her hand. At times, Obama delivered lighter comments, seeming to surprise his audience with the way he lampooned what he suggested was the government's illogical regulation of salmon.
Halfway through his term, Obama stepped into this moment on the upswing, with a series of recent legislative wins in his pocket and praise from all corners for the way he responded to the shooting rampage in Arizona. But he confronts the political reality is that he must to lead a divided government for the first time, with more than half of all Americans disapproving of the way he is handling the economy.
Over his shoulder a reminder of the shift in power on Capitol Hill: Boehner, in the seat that had been held by Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Obama conceded that everything he asked for would prompt more partisan disputes. "It will take time," he said. "And it will be harder because we will argue about everything. The cost. The details. The letter of every law."
Obama used the stories of some of the guests sitting with his wife, Michelle, to illustrate his points, including a small business owner who, in the tradition of American ingenuity, designed a drilling technology that helped rescue the Chilean miners.
The president cast the challenges facing the United States as bigger than either party. He said the nation was facing a new "Sputnik" moment, and he urged efforts to create a wave of innovation to create jobs and a vibrant economic future, just as the nation vigorously responded to the Soviets beating the U.S. into space a half century ago.
There was less of the see-saw applause typical of State of the Union speeches in years past, where Democrats stood to applaud certain lines and Republicans embraced others. Members of the two parties found plenty of lines worthy of bipartisan applause.
In a speech with little focus on national security, Obama appeared to close the door on keeping any significant U.S. military presence in Iraq beyond the end of the year. "This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq," the president said.
The president reiterated his call for a comprehensive immigration bill, although there appears little appetite for it Congress. Another big Obama priority that stalled and died in the last Congress, a broad effort to address global climate change, did not get a mention in the State of the Union. Nor did gun control or the struggling effort to secure peace in the Middle East.
Congressman Frank Lucas issued the following statement in response to President Obama's State of the Union address:
"Tonight, I was pleased to see President Obama focus on the country's recovering economy and job growth in his speech. Although Oklahoma has fared better than the rest of the nation, much of our country continues to suffer through our current economic troubles. Rather than continue wasteful spending that has led to a national debt of more than $14 trillion, we should concentrate on improving our economy, creating jobs, and reducing Americans' tax burden.
"President Obama vowed to work with Republicans to put an end to irresponsible, out of control spending. I believe Republicans and Democrats alike see that it is time to step away from partisan bickering and focus on the future of our country. While I cannot say I agree with everything the President said this evening, he seems more willing to work in a bipartisan manner- to move more towards a responsible way of governing for the American people. And I hope this speech is a beginning.
"There are challenges between the speech delivered tonight and the reality of what we have to do. In the 2010 election, the American people made it clear that they want less spending, less government and smart policies that will fuel private sector growth. If the President is serious about working together to find solutions, Republicans are open and eager to reduce spending and get our country back on track. The federal government must learn to live within our means just like American families. It is time to let Americans keep more of what they earn and for government to spend less."
Congressman James Lankford issued this statement following the State of the Union address:
"Our country is facing a debt crisis and Washington must come together to find common sense solutions," said Congressman Lankford. "Only when we take an honest approach to the deficit, will we begin to dig ourselves out of this hole. The sleight of hand that takes money from one program and gives it to another does not decrease the deficit. Reshuffling spending is not the same as cutting spending.
"The President's call for new ‘investments' is simply a guise for more of the same old stimulus spending which has done nothing to jumpstart the economy, and will surely lead to future tax increases. Initiatives that create alternative energy jobs at the expense of traditional energy jobs is a zero sum game. They will not put more people to work and it will not achieve energy independence. The combination of new spending with the proposed budget freeze will only maintain an unsustainable status quo. We need serious cuts, not a continuation of the trillion dollar deficits that are jeopardizing our nation's fiscal stability.
"Republicans are actively pursuing real cuts in the budget with specific proposals. But no party can do this alone; it must be a united effort. It is time for everyone to bring their own ideas to the table in good faith. Tomorrow I will begin to work with Chairman Paul Ryan and my colleagues on the Budget Committee to properly prioritize the way our government handles taxpayer dollars. It's time to get back to this basic function of government and I am ready to take on the challenges of getting our nation on a solid fiscal footing."
And Congressman John Sullivan issued the following reaction to President Obama's State of the Union Address:
"The President is saying the right things and I want to believe that he will focus on jobs, but unfortunately we've heard this before and we've seen failed attempt after failed attempt of throwing taxpayer money at the problem. The President and Democrats in Congress have talked about creating jobs for the past two years, but as our nation's near 10 % unemployment rate attests, his policies have yet to deliver anything but spending increases and government mandates that aren't creating the jobs that have been promised."
"Deficit spending and stimulus waste have marked President Obama's first two years in office– not job creation. His call for more taxpayer investment into so called "green jobs" is a glaring example of failed stimulus spending. Billions of dollars have been spent on clean energy programs that have sent money to companies overseas or to companies that have gone bankrupt because they were unable to compete in a free market. We should not be sending taxpayer funds offshore to subsidize green energy jobs in other countries. We must invest here at home with American made energy."
The government has to get out of the business of picking winners and losers through wasteful government subsidies, especially when the Presidents failed "green jobs" policies are proving to be a net loss of jobs rather than new job creation. Let me be clear, I support an all of the above energy plan. But we must address our current energy needs by ending the onerous regulatory mandates in the Gulf of Mexico and onshore that are preventing us from safe oil and gas production and job creation. This regulatory overreach is something I am taking a close look at this Congress given my role as the Vice Chairman of the Energy and Power Subcommittee."
"I'm glad to hear that the President is open to a five-year spending freeze. However, my concern with his plan is that spending would be frozen at an already extremely bloated level. With our national debt approaching $14 trillion, it's simply not enough fiscal restraint, and the President has to be open to brining the current spending level and any subsequent freeze back to the 2008 pre bailout and pre stimulus level. The President is choosing to fund his priorities whether we can afford them or not. Our debt ceiling is the next thing we will have to tackle with an adult conversation on our nation's fiscal health and a kick the can down the road approach as the president has suggested, will not work. House Republicans are working to end reckless spending and now is the time for the President to work with Republicans on real solutions to balance our books and create an environment where businesses can create jobs and our economy can flourish again."
Rep. Tom Cole released this statement in response to President Obama's State of the Union address:
"The President is always eloquent, but the real degree of his commitment to fiscal responsibility will be measured by actions, not words.
"The five-year spending freeze is a nice gesture, but with yearly spending up to over $1 trillion, we need to reverse spending, not just freeze it. House Republicans voted today to cut spending back to 2008 levels, and we don't plan to stop there. That's the kind of progress Americans expect, and I hope to see the President and Democratic Senate embrace these serious proposals to rein in spending.
"For the first time in four years, we have an opportunity to make real progress in reducing the deficit before it's too late. Public support for spending cuts has reached the highest levels in recent memory, and that determination is shared by the Republican majority in the House.
"With both the debt and the public appetite for spending cuts reaching historic highs, deficit reduction has rapidly become not only the smart option politically but the only option fiscally. If President Obama offers a legitimate deficit reduction plan, he will certainly find allies in the American people and the Republican House.
"I appreciated the President's remarks on civility and am optimistic that this Congress can work together to overcome our challenges. As President Obama rightly noted, the spirit and strength that made America a world leader are more than equal to the moment, and I am confident that we will take the actions necessary to preserve America's competitiveness and prosperity."