WASHINGTON D.C.: Congressional Republicans remain unmoved by calls for action on economic proposals outlined by President Obama in his State of the Union Address, particularly on his plan to raise taxes on wealthy Americans to expand middle-class tax breaks.
Freshman Sen. Joni Ernst or Iowa was tapped to give the official grand old party (GOP) response, in which she instead called for lowering tax rates by closing loopholes. “The president has already expressed some support for these kinds of ideas,” she said. “We’re calling on him now to cooperate to pass them,” Ernst added.
GOP lawmakers made it clear that the proposals the White House revealed in the days leading up to the address are non-starters in the new, fully GOP controlled Congress. “Another tax increase obviously is not what we had in mind,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters.
Republicans characterized Obama’s address as a speech more tailored for the campaign trail than to a Republican Congress, where his proposals for free community college, expanding paid sick leave and making childcare more affordable, among others, have few allies in the Republican Party where lawmakers contend they are costly new programs the country can’t afford right now. “He knows we’re not likely to pass these kinds of measures,” McConnell said.
Obama pointedly cautioned Republicans from sending him legislation that would dismantle Obamacare, the Dodd-Frank financial services overhaul, or his recent immigration executive actions, stating “if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto.”
Republicans said trade and cybersecurity remain areas where the GOP and the president can find agreement. “We’ll still look for things that we can actually agree on to try to make some progress here,” McConnell said. Obama likewise cited those items in his address, and his call to advance trade pacts with Europe and Asia enjoyed a rare moment of GOP applause.
Democrats, however, cheered Obama’s economic message that included renewed calls for equal pay legislation and raising the federal minimum wage. Top Democrats attribute the party’s losses in the 2014 midterm elections to a lackluster message on the economy despite growing signs of economic strength. Obama’s speech coincides with the strongest economic period of his presidency, including a 5.6 percent unemployment rate.
“It’s not as good as we would like it — but that’s never the case — but the economy is obviously much, much better,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland.
Obama’s proposal to expand tax breaks for middle-class earners by paying for it with new fees on the top financial firms was lauded by Democrats hoping to energize the party with a more populist economic agenda to appeal to Americans who do not feel part of the economic recovery.
It is the second year in a row that the Republican Party has tapped a female lawmaker to give the official response. Republicans also tapped Rep. Carlos Curbel of Florida to deliver the Spanish-language version of the party’s official response. The choice of lawmakers underscored the GOP’s ongoing effort to expand the party’s appeal with female and minority voters.
Ernst’s response also focused on an economic message that underscored the stresses facing American families, which Republicans contend are because of Obama’s policies. “Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare,” she said.
Tuesday’s address was Obama’s last one before the 2016 presidential campaign kicks in. One of the prospective GOP 2016 contenders, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, delivered his own State of the Union response via his YouTube channel.
“I wish I had better news for you, but all is not well in America. America is adrift. Something is clearly wrong. America needs many things, but what America desperately needs is new leadership,” said Paul.
Mitt Romney, who is mulling a third presidential run, posted his reaction on Facebook, calling the speech “disappointing” and “a missed opportunity to lead.”