President Barack Obama used his first State of the Union address Wednesday night to try to turn the nation’s focus to job creation and away from the controversial health care legislation plodding its way through Congress.
After a setup that included a swipe at his predecessor, Obama beckoned to the joint session of Congress for new legislation to spur job creation and economic growth.
“One year later the worst of the storm has passed,” he said, referencing the recession that began during the waning years of the George W. Bush administration. “But the devastation remains.”
To applause from Democrats and silence from Republicans, Obama said the $1 trillion stimulus bill saved jobs and kept the country from even more disastrous unemployment than it already faces. While the country hovers between 9 and 10 percent unemployment, Nashville has held at around 9 percent.
“Jobs must be our No. 1 focus in 2010,” the president said, adding that some 7 million jobs have disappeared in the past two years. “And that’s why I’m calling for a new jobs bill tonight.”
Obama proposed the following details:
The House has already passed a bill that includes some of the provisions cited by the president. He implored the Senate to do the same. “I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay,” Obama said.
In fact, Obama — who was mostly buoyant, even cracking a few jokes — repeatedly implied that the Senate should stop getting in the way of important legislation. He also hammered Republicans, who at times appeared boisterous and sarcastic in reacting to the president. In general, Obama expressed no small amount of frustration with the gridlock he’s faced in Washington.
“[The American people are] tired of the partisanship, the shouting and the pettiness,” Obama said, making sure to include both political parties in the criticism. “In this decade, it’s time the American people get a government that matches their decency, that embodies their strength.”
Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, who represents Nashville, was pleased with the address.
“Very solid, mature speech,” Cooper said. “I welcome the president’s focus on reducing the debt and getting Americans back to work. Although Middle Tennessee is better off than many parts of the country, we need more jobs, contracts and confidence that our economy is getting stronger. It is time for all of us to come together and get our country back on track.”
After the speech, Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander issued a statement in which he said the path to job growth would be, in essence, to discontinue the Troubled Asset Relief Program and other government-funded economic stopgaps, thereby beginning to reduce the deficit.
“My hope is that the president now will focus on jobs, debt, and terror,” Alexander said. “And it would suit me fine if he would stop right there until he has all three headed in the right direction.”
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., was also disappointed.
"I had hoped President Obama would moderate his policies and his rhetoric, and while certainly there were aspects of the speech I agreed with, it didn’t seem to me that he’d learned a great deal from the past year,” Corker said in a post-address statement. “While that is disappointing, I do get the sense that my colleagues in the Senate have learned a great deal over the past year, and for that reason, we have a far better chance to be able to work in a bipartisan fashion to implement good policies that will stand the test of time."
Although it took him more than 30 minutes, Obama also got around to addressing the health care reform legislation that has slogged through Congress.
Coming off of a rhetorical riff about bailing out the middle class, Obama said, “It is precisely to relieve the burden on middle-class families that we still need health insurance reform.
“Here’s what I ask of Congress: Don’t walk away from reform now. Not when we’re so close.”
In something of a departure, Obama also called for the repeal of the military’s controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which bars gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces. Obama said it was “the right thing to do.”
Some other highlights: