“Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence — they deserve a simple vote,” Obama said.
But much of the speech included a laundry list of proposals similar to ones he’s proposed in the past — which Congress has put on a shelf. Obama at one point thanked Congress for enacting some of his proposals and said lawmakers should pass the rest now.
He made his seemingly perennial pitch for a $50 billion infrastructure package. This time under the slogan “Fix it First,” he emphasized the need to repair existing bridges rather than build new projects. Other proposals include a push for a massive refinancing for homeowners at today’s low rates, $15 billion to rehabilitate or demolish damaged or vacant properties and the creation of 20 new “Promise Zones” for development.
Many of the proposals are relatively modest, but they are sure to poll well. That includes the president’s plan for $1 billion to create 15 manufacturing institutes around the country — an idea that had members of both parties cheering — and a new “college scorecard” aimed at giving students information comparing costs and quality. Obama will use his executive authority to create three new manufacturing centers while waiting for Congress to act.
And there were the usual pushes to end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas while calling for tax code reform.
Obama also addressed the nuclear threats from the Iran and North Korea — calling for diplomacy, a unified world response and beefed up missile defenses. But he also called for new talks with Russia to further reduce nuclear arsenals and touted a peace dividend from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as one way to pay for a new long-term transportation spending plan.
Obama’s plan to reduce the American troops in Afghanistan by 34,000 by a year from Tuesday night leaked earlier in the day. It builds on the president’s attempts to portray the tides of war as receding on his watch — and it seemed popular inside the room. He also announced a new cybersecurity executive order while calling on Congress to act.
The Republican reaction was swift, and almost uniformly negative. Indeed, some lawmakers, including Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., sent out embargoed, canned missives hours before the speech began.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., led the official GOP response, telling his personal story and wrapping it in small-government Republican ideals. Government programs aimed at helping the middle class too often hurt them, he said, targeting Obamacare, a subject mentioned only in passing by the president.
And Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, who had to sit through a series of jabs aimed squarely at him, just a few feet behind the president, issued a negative press release not long after the speech ended.
Boehner called the speech “more of the same ‘stimulus’ policies that have failed to fix our economy and put Americans back to work. We cannot grow the middle class and foster job creation by growing government and raising taxes. ... We are only weeks away from the devastating consequences of the president’s sequester, and he failed to offer the cuts needed to replace it.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.