The Associated Press
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.
U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe issued the following statement regarding President Obama's State of the Union Address:
"With all due respect to the President, talk is cheap. But we gotta act. That is what the American people want us to do"
"Tonight, we heard similar language regarding the deficit as his speech last year. The President's proposal is to freeze non-security discretionary spending at current levels for the next five years. As I said last year, it is not fiscally responsible to increase spending as the President has done over the past two years and then freeze it. Instead, we should pull spending levels back to where they were before the massive increases and then freeze it. Earlier today, the House acted by passing a resolution that would reduce discretionary non-security spending back to 2008 levels. Last March, I lead the way by introducing similar legislation in the Senate…."
"In the global market place, the American worker and the American economy must be free to compete. The best way to do that is to get government out of the way and let the private sector, the true engine behind our economy, do what it does best – grow and create jobs."
"The President's speech tonight was touted as an agenda for "winning the future". Winning the future for the American economy, for American jobs, and for American ideals won't be achieved by simply giving speeches. It takes action that ultimately gets government out of the way. As NFL coaching great Vince Lombardi once said, "You don't win once in a while, you don't do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit." And we need to start winning through action…not talk. Eloquence is a wonderful thing…action is greater. Let's try it."
U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. issued the following statement regarding President Obama's State of the Union Address:
"The president had an opportunity to give budget and entitlement reform real momentum but stopped short. He did what presidents often do and deferred the hard choices to Congress. No doors were slammed, and areas for cooperation remain open. Yet, the task of putting our nation on a sustainable path will be much more difficult absent strong presidential leadership.
"The president's biggest push was to advance an argument he has made many times in the past – that the government is a vital partner in making investments and spurring innovation. The problem is we've had countless Sputnik moments in recent decades that have created little more than space junk. Congress continuously launches programs with great fanfare but rarely tracks or measures their progress. Then, when we want launch a new program we're surprised when it overlaps with an existing program.
"The best way to spur the kind of innovation we need is for government to get out of the way, reduce our debt burden, and allow capital to flow to the most promising and productive enterprises. The five-year spending freeze the president proposed excludes most of the budget and hardly amounts to serious deficit reduction when we are already running trillion dollar annual deficits. Locking in current spending levels locks in dangerous deficits and gives everyone's sacred cows a new lease on life. Borrowing a trillion dollars to stimulate the economy is stealing from the future, not investing in the future."
Congressman John Sullivan issued the following statement regarding 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."