Reactions to the State of the Union address

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.”

More reactions after the jump…

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, issued a statement noting President Obama took office as the economy was in a massive crisis, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act helped turn things around.

“But with unemployment in my home state still hovering at 12.4 percent and with comprehensive health care reform still in negotiations, our work is far from done. The Senate must pass the Jobs for Main Street Act and Wall Street Reform and Accountability Act, two critically important bills that cleared the House last month. If signed into law, they will create tens of thousands of jobs, provide more relief for homeowners, renters, and small business owners, and stop the predatory practices of Wall Street.

“We also must finish what we started with health care reform. I came to Congress pledging to fix our broken health care system, and I plan on following through. This is both a public health and economic issue. We spend 17 percent of our gross domestic product on health care, far more than any other industrialized nation. And what are we getting for this expense? According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. ranks at the bottom of 19 industrialized nations in the number of common preventable deaths. We can do a lot more while spending a lot less.

“If we pass healthcare reform now, three things will almost immediately happen: patients will not be denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions; adult aged children will be given access to their parents’ insurance until the age of 27; and healthcare will be portable if you lose or change your job. That is real reform right now.

“I will continue to work with my colleagues to fight hard for real health care reform, including a robust public option and generous affordability protections for seniors and the middle class. And let me be clear, I’m not the least bit concerned about using majority rule in the Senate to pass meaningful health care reform. Congress has employed reconciliation to make major policy shifts, including welfare reform and the Bush tax cuts, and the fact of the matter is this country will find itself in serious trouble if we do not act now. No one Senator should feel entitled to veto power over 17 percent of our economy.

“So as we reflect on today’s State of the Union address, let’s remember how far we’ve come after only one year into President Obama’s term and also remember how far we still must go.”

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell issued a statement saying he wished he’d seen “a truly new fiscally responsible direction. I did not see that. Instead, I heard him postpone anything for another year. And then, the proposed freeze in spending will affect only the non-defense discretionary side of the budget, a tiny portion of the federal budget. If he achieves all he promises, it will lower the deficit by 1 ½ percent — and even then, not until another year has gone by. Another year, whose deficit is projected to be $1.3 trillion.”

Campbell said President Obama remains “committed to a federal government far too big, and a debt that is unsustainable. He is enabled by big spenders in Congress, like Senator Boxer, who, over 28 years in the House and Senate, has run up a record of spending that is almost unequaled by any other politician. Until we replace her with a proven fiscal conservative, I fear we won’t have real budget reform.”

Extending the spending freeze to Medicaid for a year would save $66 billion, more than four times what the President has proposed, Campbell said, and extending it to all non-defense discretionary spending would save $98 billion more. The $700 billion coming back from the TARP bank bailout shouldn’t be spent again, he said, and half the unspent $500 billion from the Recovery Act should be saved while the rest should be used to eliminate the payroll tax on hiring new workers who’ve been unemployed for more than two months.

“The American people are watching, and they see that the President proposed only about 15 billion dollars in cuts this year, whereas I’ve just identified almost 300 billion – a much more serious proposal,” Campbell said. “These cuts give more economic power to individual Americans. They are the path to economic recovery.”

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina made a video statement in response to the State of the Union address:

And U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., issued this statement:

“Tonight, our President made clear that he will not quit until our country is on the right track.

“He was both inspirational and realistic about the state of our union, and reflected the hopes, optimism and spirit of the American people.

“He clearly told the story of how we got to this tough place, the mistaken policies of the past, and the difficult work that still lies ahead to create jobs and help middle-class families.

“He laid out a plan for how we will prosper once again if we have the courage to continue fighting for change.

“This change includes a focus on jobs, clean energy and infrastructure, support for our nation’s small businesses, and assisting our families with larger child care tax credits and higher education incentives.

“As we carry out these priorities, I agree with our President that we must be fiscally responsible, finish our work on health care, and protect Americans from Wall Street abuses.”

UPDATE @ 9:55 P.M.: Apologies to Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, whose statement got lost in the raging torrent of post-SOTU messages swamping my e-mail inbox:

“I represent an area that has been hit hard by the downturn in the economy. Families are struggling to make ends meet and many are worried about losing their home to foreclosure.

“I know what it’s like to struggle to make mortgage payments while trying to put away money for your kids’ college educations. I had to take out a second mortgage to provide for my family when my kids were growing up and spent months searching for a job after the company I worked for went under. I hear all the time from people in similar situations.

“I appreciated the president’s focus on the economy and jobs tonight, but I’ll need to see substantial progress on this front to be satisfied with his proposals. At a time when unemployment is above 17 percent in the area I represent, it’s not enough to talk about improving the economy. Americans are hurting and we need action and initiatives that will create jobs.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RR, Uninvited Columnist

    As usual, Ms Lee demonstrates her remarkable capacity for pandering to the deluded Berkeley activists. To Ms Lee and her base, poverty is a badge of honor and signifies purity of spirit. The lower one is on the social and economic scale, the more noble and deserving of society’s resources.

  • Elwood

    I just learned a new word from Ms. Lee “dead-seat”

    That’s what Obama’s speech gave me.

    I’ve not seen all 200 or so SOU speeches, but I’ve seen a bunch of them, and Obama’s has to rate near the bottom.

    Did the teleprompter break? Is that why there was so much stuttering and stammering?

    Unfortunately for him, he can’t tell the difference between laughing with him and laughing at him.

    I guess not even he has the cojones to utter the traditional “The state of the union is good.”

  • Josh Richman

    @Elwood: I’ve fixed the typo, thanks.

  • John W.

    Re #2:

    Near the bottom? Matter of opinion. I thought it was great. Stuttering and stammering? I must have been wearing my stutter filter. Didn’t hear any of that. Teleprompter? What, he’s supposed to adlib the SOTU?

    I loved the fact check parts of his speech. Bohener was looking a bit uncomfortable when Obama listed all the targeted middle class tax CUTS during the first year. People bust Obama’s chops for setting the record straight on what he inherited, but you can’t get a clear understanding of where we are now and how to dig out unless you understand how we got here and identify all the sources of the current deficit, not just bailouts supported by both the previous and current administrations and the stimulus. The big factor is the bottom falling out on tax revenue due to the recession, something you can hardly blame Obama for, given that the Depression-lite kicked into wildfire mode before Obama was even elected. The 2003 tax cuts are contributing to the red ink, just as was predicted by CBO when they were passed, which is why Congress covered it up by having the cuts expire in 2011. Medicare and SS have both gone cash negative (thanks both to demographics and the prescription drug program that was enacted with no way to pay for it). This deficit monster will continue doing so in exponentially growing amounts. Yet, only 16 Republicans voted for the deficit commission, something they previously supported. As Obama said (his best line, in my opinion), everyday is election day in D.C. We need to get real on Medicare and Social Security. If we fix those, all the other fiscal challenges combined are easy. If we don’t fix Medicare and SS, addressing all the other challenges won’t matter. Medicare will be flat broke in 2017. Incoming revenue from payroll taxes won’t come close to covering the cost; so something will have to give then, big time. We won’t have any choice.

  • Elwood

    John W., please comment on the deer in the headlights look he got on his face when he was unable to determine whether the audience was laughing with him or laughing at him.

    I don’t think the great Obama has ever been exposed to much of the latter.

  • John W.

    Re: #5,

    My comment is that I watched every minute and saw no deer in the headlights look (at least not on Obama). I agree some of those well-mannered Republicans laughed at Obama’s comment about the freeze going into effect in 2011, which drew his quick, “that’s the way budgets work” comment. The only deer in headlights looks I saw were on the faces of Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, when Obama listed all the tax cuts and mentioned nuclear power and offshore drilling. Anybody else here, besides Elwood, see Obama with a deer in the headlights look? I also saw a real deer in the headlights while driving on Danville Blvd. tonight. I’m pretty sure it was a Republican deer, but I avoided running over it anyway.