Obama’s State of the Union: Move together or not at all
Posted: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 9:11 pm
WASHINGTON (AP) — Pleading for unity in a newly-divided government, President 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.”
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 spoke to a television audience in the millions and 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.
Eager to show some budget toughness, Obama pledged to veto any bill with earmarks, the term used for lawmakers’ pet projects. House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans applauded. But Obama’s promise drew party even before he spoke, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the president had enough power and that plans to ban earmarks were “a lot of pretty talk.”
Obama’s proposals Tues-day night ranged across the scope of government: 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.”
In essence, Obama reset his agenda as he heads toward a re-election bid with less clout and limited time before the campaign consumes more attention.
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. The Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said the president had gotten the message from the November midterm elections and “changed the tone and the rhetoric from the first two years.”
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, which is that he must be able 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 was a reminder of the shift in power on Capitol Hill: Boehner, in the seat that had been held by Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Published in The Messenger 1.26.11