California Republican Party chairman Ron Nehring said that after a year of President Obama trying to jam his agenda down Congressional Republicans’ throats, tonight’s speech sounded more like political positioning and rhetoric than substantive policy. “I saw an attempt to salvage the same health-care package. I saw largely repackaging more than the adoption of a more centrist policy agenda.”
“This unfortunate, constant blaming of his predecessor and his predecessor’s programs – that’s not taking responsibility, that’s not leadership,” Nehring said.
The President also engaged in “a bit of trying to rewrite history” by emphasizing the tax cuts included in the economic-stimulus legislation rather than its wasteful government spending, Nehring said, noting that despite President Obama’s promises to the contrary, the national unemployment rate now hovers around 10 percent and California’s around 12 percent.
And on foreign policy, he said, Obama’s resolute words don’t mask the fact that Iran’s nascent Iranian nuclear program and continued support of groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah still destabilizes the Middle East and stands in the way of regional peace efforts including a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, said he’s pleased that President Obama named as a stimulus success story the $535 million loan guarantee to Fremont-based Solyndra, which will build a plant to produce state-of-the-art solar panels. Alas, Stark said, he didn’t mention the imminent closure of the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant, which will cost the East Bay 4,000 to 5,000 jobs.
“He’s got the broad picture right but he was terribly short on specific programs,” Stark said, adding he wishes he’d heard more about money targeted toward communities for infrastructure improvement. “I’m willing to give him credit for trying … I thought it was inspirational, I thought it was a bit short on detail, that’s all.”
Stark, who chairs the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, also said the President’s health-care reform comments indicate he “seems to think more optimistically than I do that he can get it past the House and the Senate. I don’t think he can, I don’t think he can get the Senate to make the changes that are necessary.”
House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez, embraced President Obama’s optimism and resoluteness on health-care reform.
“We’re going to continue to meet with the Senate to come to an agreement on what we can pass in the senate on a majority vote, which they can do,” Miller said shortly after the speech. “If you do nothing, people continue to lose their insurance, people continue to be devastated by medical bills … The status quo is crushing our companies and its crushing our families.”
Overall, Miller said, PResient Obama “did a hell of a job” with the speech, given declining polls, the GOP victory in the Massachusetts Senate election, and a tough battle behind and ahead on health care. “I thought it was inspirational, I think he was speaking directly to members of Congress and telling us we have an obligation to do the business of this nation.”
In particular, Miller said, “I think he took the senate to the woodshed” by noting the House has passed bills on jobs, financial reform, education and energy and climate change, and now it’s the Senate’s turn. “He was really telling them, you’ve gotta get this done.”
“If they don’t change, we’re not going to meet the needs of the country”
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, also appreciated that President Obama “put the Senate on the spot,” and also that he did the same to the U.S. Supreme Court over last week’s decision lifting long-standing restrictions on corporate and union spending on federal campaigns. “Very bold of him, but that was the right thing to do.”
Like Stark, Lee said she would’ve liked a few more specifics. “I think he gave us parameters for what he was talking about,” she said, “but I wanted to hear what kind of jobs bill he thinks the Senate should pass” as pertains to targeting the areas of highest need, retraining workers for green industries, creating summer jobs for youth, and so on. “I think we do need a direct government investment in creating jobs, but I think all and all it was a very profound speech, very inspirational, and gave a lot of hope to people.”
Although she said she’s glad he’s “staying the course” on issues such as health-care reform, climate change and issues, there are some things on which Lee flat-out disagreed with President Obama. Her opposition to the 30,000-troop increase for Afghanistan is already on the record, but she said she’s also dead-set against the discretionary spending freeze the President described tonight.
“In a time of despair, during an economic downturn and recession, you don’t freeze discretionary spending. You don’t hurt those who need help the most,” she said, adding she didn’t buy his argument that delaying the freeze until 2011 will alleviate its effect on the struggling economy. “For whatever reason, this is something he thinks has to be part of his economic policy at this time.”
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