Impassioned President Obama stresses 'jobs' (29 times) and economy in State of the Union addressBY KENNETH R. BAZINET AND MICHAEL MCAULIFF
January 28, 2010
WASHINGTON - President Obama spun forcefully toward the economy in his first State of the Union address on Wednesday night, performing a delicate dance to recast his ambitious agenda as a jobs-creating machine.
He also tried to recapture some of the hope that put him in office in the first place, saying the warring parties in Congress owe it to Americans to work together.
"What the American people hope - what they deserve - is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences, to overcome the numbing weight of our politics," Obama said, striking a feisty tone seldom heard since his campaign.
What Americans want is the simple security of knowing that tomorrow will be better than today, said the President, who cast himself as a fierce defender of the middle class.
Mentioning the word "jobs" 29 times, he asked Congress to join him and make 2010 all about jobs.
"People are out of work. They are hurting. They need our help," he said. "And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay."
Obama's emphasis on work and kitchen-table issues came after one of the worst years for the economy in generations, with unemployment climbing to 10%, and a bitter, year-long fight over health care.
Along the way, his poll numbers slid from stellar to lackluster, and voters rebelled against Democrats in Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races. The devastating strike three came last week, when the anointed successor to the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy in Massachusetts lost to a populist Republican.
"Our administration has had some political setbacks this year," he acknowledged, "and some of them were deserved."
Accordingly, Obama spent more than half his speech trying to show he gets it, rolling out a string of proposals designed to prove the economy is locked into the White House's laser sights.
He proposed funneling $30 billion in repaid Wall Street bank funds into small business lending, new investments in green and clean energy, doubling U.S. exports and new tax incentives to encourage infrastructure spending.
He also touted a new middle-class tax cut, and proposed eliminating capital gains taxes on small businesses - proposals that went down well with New York's junior senator.
"I liked that he talked about a middle-class tax-cut agenda," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
His recent populist streak also reemerged, with the President saying he understands the frustrations regular people have with politicians and financiers.
"They don't understand why it seems like bad behavior on Wall Street is rewarded but hard work on Main Street isn't, or why Washington has been unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems," Obama said.
But he also stuck by the health care reform push - even if it took him 25 minutes to get to the topic, after his renewed focus on jobs.
"By the time I'm finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance," he noted. "I will not walk away from these Americans. And neither should the people in this chamber."
He also acknowledged how perilous the health care fight has become - for him.
"By now it should be fairly obvious that I didn't take on health care because it was good politics," he said. "I took on health care because of the stories I've heard from Americans."
Members of Congress liked the words, but also said the President needs to follow through better than last year.
"I think that they were trying to walk, chew gum, sing and dance on a tightrope without a net, all at the same time," said Queens Democratic Rep. Gary Ackerman.
Even as Obama called again for bipartisanship, he fired a shot at the GOP for trying to block everything.
"Saying 'No' to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership," Obama said.
Some Republicans said "No" to the President's speech, arguing he still doesn't get that things like the stimulus bill he hailed are actually part of the problem.
"Instead of pivoting from the left toward the middle class he gave a head fake and continued to defend the stimulus bill," said Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.).
"The federal government is simply trying to do too much," said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell in the GOP response.