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February 13, 2013

US Lawmakers React to Obama Address

by Michael Bowman

Lawmakers’ reaction to presidential speeches often cuts along partisan and ideological lines, and President Obama’s State of the Union address was no exception. Democrats warmed to his proposals; Republicans much less so.

Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire had high praise for President Obama’s economic proposals.

“I was pleased to hear him talk about what we need to do to improve the economy and create jobs, the investment in infrastructure, making sure that we have the human capital that we need,” said Shaheen.

New Hampshire’s other senator, Republican Kelly Ayotte, appreciated Obama’s acknowledgment that costly programs that provide income and health care for retirees will have to be reformed. But she is skeptical about the president’s proposed initiatives to boost America's economic vitality.

“He mentioned a number of new items on spending tonight. I did not hear how we are going to pay for them,” said Ayotte.

In fact, the president promised that his proposals would not increase the federal deficit. But that misses a larger point, according to Republican Congressman James Langford.

“He said, ‘All of my programs will not add a dime to the deficit’. And, I thought, ‘Not adding a dime to the deficit is not the goal here," said Langford. "Reducing the deficit by about ten trillion dimes is really the goal here.’”

On the other hand, Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio wants to see even more government action to spur the economy than what Obama put forward.

“He certainly talked about the need for additional federal investment in infrastructure. The number was too low, but he talked about it,” said DeFazio.

On foreign affairs, Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen applauded President Obama’s commitment to end the war in Afghanistan.

“Our strategy all along has been to hand off responsibility [for security] to the Afghans," said Van Hollen. "The United States cannot be in Afghanistan militarily forever.”

But Republican Congressman Trent Franks fears the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is premature.

“The objective is to prevail and come home, not only in victory, but in a way that leaves a secure environment behind that is not conducive to creating more terrorism that could threaten us in the future," said Franks.

Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison says Franks’ concerns are unfounded.

“He [Obama] affirmed that we are not going to abandon Afghanistan," said Ellison. "We are not going to leave them without training, without backup, without a real partnership with the United States.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says there are areas where his party can work with the president, but added that Obama is the chief steward of the nation’s fortunes.

“He owns this economy. I will stand with him to do immigration reform. I will stand behind him to help find an insurance policy against Afghanistan falling apart like Iraq is. But, at the end of the day, this is his legacy," said Graham. "And, what happens economically and throughout the world foreign policy-wise, he owns more than anybody else.”

President Obama set forth his vision for the future. Congress will decide whether that vision becomes law.