Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland — who just two weeks ago told community leaders she doesn’t believe “earmark” should be a dirty word and so she’s doing all she can to get her district its fair share of federal dollars — said she was stunned by the President’s call to slash such spending.
“Look at the president’s earmarks he puts forth every year – I’m totally flabbergasted at what he’s talking about,” she said a few minutes ago, noting that Bush himself requested more than $20 billion in earmarks in 2006, and that Democrats already have enacted transparency rules and other reforms that were absent during Republican control of Congress. “Many communities in the country, such as my community, deserve some of their federal dollars back… people pay taxes in these congressional districts and they deserve some of their federal dollars back in the form of earmarks.”
Long a leader in the global battle against HIV/AIDS, Lee said the President’s call for increased spending still falls short. “Given the magnitude of the pandemic, we’re suggesting $50 billion in our reauthorization bill; $30 billion is not enough,” she said, adding she was disappointed Bush failed to address the disease’s impact on America, particularly in communities of color.
She said she fears his demand to keep the economic-stimulus package clear of any add-ons. “You know what that means: don’t add food stamps or extension of unemployment benefits,” she predicted, even as five million more people have fallen below the poverty line during Bush’s tenure. “I would think he’d want to do as much as he could to help poor people in this economic stimulus plan.”
A member of the House Appropriations Committee, Lee said she also fears the 150 “bloated” programs he said he’ll try to slash probably include just the sorts of programs for which she and others have fought hard – things such as violence prevention, outreach to at-risk youth and other support structures for low- and middle-income communities. “We’ll be ready for the fight,” she vowed.
And she said she’s “not surprised but disappointed” at his stay-the-course tone for the war in Iraq. “I think we have to mount more aggressive efforts here in the House to end it … to put up no more money except for a fully funded withdrawal of the troops.”
All in all, she said, “I’m very pleased that this was the last State of the Union speech that we’ll have to listen to and respond to by George W. Bush.”
Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, viewed the speech on television at home, although his grandson – Timothy Wainwright, 16 – was on the House floor as a newly-sworn Congressional page. Stark said he wishes his grandson had been witness to a more inspiring moment.
“I think you just watched what history will determine was the worst president in the history of the United States reviewing all the bad things he has done,” he said. “I think you got more excitement out of the presidential debates on both sides of the aisle over the last few months than you did tonight… It was not a speech with a great deal of charge and change for the American public, it just kind of summarized a lackluster administration.”
Stark, who chairs the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, said he was dismayed by President Bush’s continued call for privatizing Medicare and Social Security, as well as for maintaining the war in Iraq. “I didn’t hear a lot tonight, I literally didn’t hear a new idea or something he didn’t raise the last time.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, who in past years has been quick to provide an elegant verbal riposte following President Bush’s State of the Union addresses, wasn’t available for comment Monday night. Let’s hope that this has little to do with his recent announcement that he’s starting treatment for esophageal cancer, and rather that he simply wanted the night off.
Statements issued by Ellen Tauscher, Jerry McNerney and others, after the jump…
Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo:
Tonight the President chose to re-hash his tired partisan rhetoric and again failed to offer any real solutions to the problems we are facing. Instead of offering new ideas and pledging to work with Democrats in Congress he signaled a desire to coast to the end of his term on strategies that are misguided and costly and priorities that are not shared with the American people.
My colleagues and I are ready to work with the President and Congressional Republicans to build a stronger nation, but we are committed to holding the line on fiscal responsibility, creating new energy solutions that not only make us more secure but protect our environment and ending our involvement in Iraq.
These are the priorities of the American people and they are shared by myself and the New Direction Congress.
Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton:
Chief among them is the economy. With so many people in the 11th district and across the country facing the impact of a weakened economy, Republicans and Democrats were able to come together to craft an economic stimulus package that will put money directly in the hands of hard-working Americans.
Unfortunately, aside from the stimulus package, with our country facing so many difficult challenges ahead, the President’s speech included few new ideas for solving many of the country’s most pressing problems.
The President again addressed the need to move our country from its dependence on foreign oil – a call he has made in each of his previous seven State of the Union Addresses.
He called for Americans to trust in the creative genius of American researchers and entrepreneurs. As someone who spent much of his professional career in wind energy, I could not agree more. And yet, the President’s statement is at odds with veto threats he issued during consideration of versions of the energy bill that extended investment and production tax credits, the lifeblood of so much innovation.
The President’s speech also included a belated call for reform of the earmark process. I welcome a reform of this process and I am pleased President Bush is joining this effort. After all, it was under previous Republican Congresses where the number of earmarks in appropriations bills skyrocketed.
One of my first acts as a Member of Congress was to vote for far-reaching earmark reform so that now it is always clear which Member requested which earmark. Not only that, but I was among the first House Members to release publicly the entire list of earmarks I sought on behalf of my constituents for important education, public safety, and transportation projects.
I am proud of the work we have been able to accomplish over the past year on strengthening national security, making a college education more affordable and accessible, and making America more competitive internationally.
But so much remains to be done: on making healthcare more affordable, on getting the Iraqi government to stand up and take responsibility for their country, and on truly honoring our nation’s veterans and making sure they receive the benefits to which they are entitled.
As we move beyond the State of the Union, I call upon President Bush to work cooperatively with the Congress as we address Americans’ concerns.
We agree with the President that we must work together to make progress on our most pressing challenges. Yet, tonight, the President offered little more than the status quo. At a time when our economy is on shaky ground and our leadership around the world is eroding, the status quo won’t do.
The President repeatedly asked Congress tonight to trust the American people to create their own opportunities. But just as we must trust the American people, they must be able to share the same confidence in their leaders – and only bold action will re-establish Americans’ faith in their government. They must be able to trust that their President will work to change course in Iraq so we can more effectively fight terrorism around the world and rebuild our mighty military.
They must be able to trust that their leaders will govern with ideas rather than ideology so that every American has the opportunity to pursue a sound education, earn a fair wage, and afford a decent home. And they must be able to trust that we will lead the way for change by reducing our dependence on oil and the rising costs of health care.
We hope that the bipartisanship on the economic stimulus package that has marked the start of this new year is a sign of things to come. But the President must do much more than simply give speeches that promise progress and commit to cooperation – he must work with Congress to make it happen.
If the President holds fast to the commitment he made to bipartisanship tonight, we can make great progress for the American people this year.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger:
I am pleased that tonight’s State of the Union speech addressed the urgent need to stimulate our nation’s economy. No state is more affected by the economic impact of the subprime mortgage crisis and the downturn in the housing market than California. I’m pleased the House and President have already agreed to raise the limits associated with federal home loan programs so homeowners in higher cost regions of the country such as California can gain more access to those stable, secure loans. As the largest economy in the nation, this critical step is a positive step forward not only for our state, but for the nation’s economy. I support the President’s call for quick passage by the Senate of the economic stimulus package.
Additionally, I commend the President for continuing to push for free trade agreements. I look forward to further discussing trade opportunities when the President comes to California later this week. I’m confident that the economic stimulus package and the free trade agreements will help provide the jump start our nation’s economy needs.