Democrats Pleased by Renewed Focus on Jobs
Congressional Democrats itching to move past a politically treacherous health care debate hailed President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address as signaling a much-needed change in focus to jobs and the economy. Obama opened his speech with an appeal for the Senate to follow the lead the House set at the end of last year by sending him a jobs bill “without delay.— And while he called for lawmakers to push forward with health care reform, he offered few specifics about how to do so. Some Democrats eyeing soaring unemployment and a souring political environment interpreted the pitch as a green light to change the subject from a debate that has divided the country and the party.“It was refreshing to see the priority and the focus on the economy,— said Rep. Zack Space (Ohio), a sophomore Democrat and top GOP target this year. He said the health care debate “is in many ways dividing this country and preventing us from fully focusing on our economy and getting our feet back under us.—“The priorities were clear: jobs, deficit reduction, holding Wall Street firms accountable,— said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Assistant to the Speaker and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman. “Those were clearly the big three. And he sort of asked the question to the American people, do you really want to turn back the clock and adopt the same policies that got us into this economic mess to begin with?—In tone, Democrats praised what they said was a spirited call to arms. “Americans want a fighter, I like a fighter,— Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said. “The man inherited some major challenges, he’s fighting to try and address them, I think that’s what you want to see in a president.—And Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) lauded Obama’s “personal confidence.—“The words resilience’ and strength’ and decency’ appeared over and over again and I thought they were a very good way for him to bothconnect us in Congress with the better angels of our nature and reconnect with the American people after this divisive period we’ve been through,— he said.It wasn’t all atta-boys from Democratic lawmakers. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), a leading liberal critic of Obama’s economic policies, said the president’s speech came up short for not specifically pledging significant new investments in infrastructure — and for calling for new trade agreements. “He has thus far been indistinguishable from Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George Bush the first, George Bush the second, on trade policy,— DeFazio said. “Is he beginning to break? Is he beginning to back away from the free-trade mantra that has failed our country and exported millions of jobs and our manufacturing capability? It’s not clear from what he said tonight.—And Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) said the president should have stuck to the economy and jobs instead of wading into issues like gays in the military and immigration.“Those are issues I would have preferred he didn’t bring up in this context,— he said.But the call to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell— law got kudos as well.“I’ve talked to 100 military people in the last two years … and I haven’t heard one of them who thinks [don’t ask, don’t tell] is a good idea,— Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) said.“I hope we can move forward on that in the interest of national security,— said Van Hollen, who added that valuable members of the military are being arbitrarily thrown out of the service when they could be defending the country.“I think that was a courageous thing to say and I hope the Joint Chiefs of Staff heard him,— Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said.House Democrats in particular enjoyed tweaking the Senate, noting that Obama praised them for moving a host of bills including energy, financial reform and a jobs package that are languishing in the other chamber.“This isn’t about what the Congress has not done, it’s what the Senate has not done,— House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said. Weiner described the president’s criticism of the Senate as “perhaps the most profound thing he said.—The calls to bipartisanship had a mixed review among Democrats, who generally liked that Obama made overtures to Republicans but don’t expect much in return. Clyburn noted that Republican Senators who co-sponsored a fiscal commission ended up voting against it once it had Obama’s support.“They have done that time and time again,— Clyburn said.David M. Drucker contributed to this report.