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.”
Boehner said that instead of working with Republicans, Obama “appears to have chosen a go-it-alone approach to pursue his liberal agenda.”
In a briefing Tuesday afternoon, senior administration officials argued that the speech was neither liberal nor conservative, noting that many of the ideas have long had bipartisan support.
Some are explicitly so — such as a new election reform commission that will be headed by top Obama campaign lawyer Bob Bauer and top Romney lawyer Ben Ginsberg. But many of the proposals are likely to wind up as so much cannon fodder for a GOP intent on reining in government, not expanding its reach.
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.