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As Senate Democrats praised President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night and urged their Republican colleagues to abandon partisanship, the GOP responded with a deep yawn and a little bit of hope.
Even before the president had finished speaking, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) issued a statement challenging Republicans to stop “wasting time with pointless political stunts. Republicans should join us in looking to the future instead of refighting old battles and pressing extreme, ideological plans.”
“I don’t think the politics of ‘no’ works for Republicans over the next two years,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said.
Senate Republicans did find something to like in the speech, particularly Obama’s pledge to veto any bill that includes earmarks. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he “liked a lot of what [the president] had to say.”
But for McConnell and many of his fellow Republicans, Obama did not go far enough on the issues of government spending, the federal deficit or the national debt, nor do they trust the president to follow through on even the portions of the address they found appealing.
“I agree the country does, and has always done, big things,” Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.) said in reference to one of the closing lines of the president’s speech. “But every time he said ‘investment,’ to me that’s a concern about spending. We have rhetoric, and I want to see what the record does.”
“It’s nice gesture,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said in describing the tone of the address. “I think what really counts is what happens now. As always, he gave a nice speech. But it’s not so much what he says, it’s what gets done.”
In particular, Obama’s call for a five-year spending freeze fell flat, given Republicans’ view that the president has supported an unhealthy growth in government spending since assuming office. “It’s meaningless; I mean it’s just literally meaningless,” Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) said, adding that there wasn’t a lot for him to get “very excited about.”
Amid his policy proposals and calls for the American people to live up to the country’s greatness, Obama sprinkled in pleas for bipartisanship and civility on Capitol Hill.
Liberal-minded Senate Democrats found much to like in Obama’s proposals for investing in clean energy and infrastructure, and conservative Democrats latched onto his pledge to end earmarks and attack the deficit. Both ideological wings of the 53-member Democratic Conference were buoyed by Obama’s exhortation for both political parties to work together.
In keeping with that spirit, some Democrats declined to specifically say that the onus is on Republicans to move toward the Senate’s majority party. But they hinted that they’re hoping for such compromise in the 112th Congress.