Friday, August 01, 2014

Fingers point to political gridlock, foes

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 1/29/2014

Democrats and Republicans agree on one thing: Washington is mired by gridlock.

But who’s to blame?

Democrats and Republicans agree on one thing: Washington is mired by gridlock.

But who’s to blame?

President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday appeared to do little to build consensus on an answer.

“He talks a good talk, there is no doubt. But walking the talk is a bit different,” Bob Fluke, Ottawa, Franklin County Republican Central Committee chairman, said. “There has to be some more give and take on the legislative and executive. There needs to be more working together.”

Louise Dietz, Ottawa, said the president deserves a less-combative Congress more willing to work toward compromise, rather than continuing to hurt the economy with political in-fighting.

“Those in the opposition have decided they don’t want him to have any success,” Dietz said. “Ignoring the fact that he has a successful presidency, and if they helped him perhaps the country would work better.”

Proposals highlighted in Obama’s State of the Union speech could boost the economy, she said. Fluke, however, contended the president has proven himself unable to turn the country around, instead keeping the nation headed in the wrong direction.

“He tries to paint a good picture, but at the same time if you look at the past years of his administration, it’s just not working,” Fluke said. “We have too many people unemployed.”

U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., agreed Obama’s speech was more of the same. America is hurting from the president’s policies, Jenkins said, and she refuses to accept that as the status quo.

“Kansans and Americans are ready for a year of action,” she said, “which is why our focus remains on plans to create jobs for hardworking families, grow our economy and empower people, not the government.”

Jenkins said Congress and the White House need to come together, ignore rhetoric and do the right thing for the country.

“President Obama can spend the final years of his presidency with a ‘pen and a phone’ or he can work with our duly elected House Republican majority to create opportunity for all families, to foster upward mobility, and to deliver higher take-home pay to the American people,” she said.

Dietz expressed confidence in Obama’s leadership, encouraging lawmakers like Jenkins to work with, not against, the president. She said she recently told a neighbor she still is proud she voted for Obama.

“I think he’s the right person for the time in which we live, and if he got the cooperation for anything, things will be accomplished,” Dietz said.

THE SPEECH

In his address to Congress Tuesday, Obama proposed several solutions to improving the U.S. economy and called on the Republican-controlled House and Democrat-dominated Senate to work together to help make his solutions reality. Obama’s proposals include tax code reform, raising the minimum wage, funding to help grow innovation in American products and finding ways to increase use of energy from American suppliers.

While the president proposed several solutions to help the economy, he opened his speech with a list of economic advances since he was first elected in 2008. Obama said the state of the union relies on the country’s citizens, and because of citizens’ efforts, the economy boasts its lowest unemployment rate in five years, a rebounding housing market, and is purchasing more oil domestically than from foreign countries for the first time in 20 years. He also said business leaders have once again declared America the best place to invest — even better than China.

“That’s why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America,” Obama said. “After five years of grit and determined effort, the United States is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth.”

Obama said he understands Congress might not agree on everything, but it is his duty to reverse the trends that hinder America’s economic development and growth. He said some of his proposed solutions require congressional action, and that he was eager to work with the Legislature.

“But America does not stand still, and neither will I,” Obama said. “So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

TAX REFORM

Obama said both Democrats and Republicans have said the United States tax code is “riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes” that are harmful to businesses investing in America, and instead benefits investing abroad.

To address the problem and bring investments back to America, Obama asked Congress to work together to close the loopholes, lower tax rates for businesses to create jobs in America and end incentives to ship jobs overseas. Along with those changes, Obama said, he wants to use the money saved from the tax reforms to create jobs, rebuild roads and upgrade ports to unclog commutes.

“[B]ecause in today’s global economy, first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure,” Obama said.

ENERGY AND INNOVATION

Using China and Europe as references, Obama said countries that fund innovation will be the global leaders of the future. He asked Congress to “undo the damage” caused by last year’s funding cuts to basic research. He said federally funded research helped invent the technology for smartphones and Google. To help make up for cuts made by Congress, Obama proposed to pass a patent reform bill that would allow businesses to focus on innovation rather than costly litigation.

“China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines, and neither should we,” Obama said. “We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow.”

Obama said America is the closest to energy independence in decades, and committing to American energy will bring more jobs back to the country. He said natural gas is one of the biggest reasons America is less dependent on foreign energy, and he will work to help states open factories that will put people to work.

But along with natural gas and oil, Obama said, America is becoming a leader in solar energy. Obama said he wants to create a tax policy that will stop giving billions of dollars to fossil fuel companies and use that money to fund more energy resources.

IMMIGRATION

If the country is serious about economic growth, Obama said, it must fix its immigration system. Immigration will cut the country’s deficit by $1 trillion in the next two decades, he said. By fixing the immigration system, Obama said, the United States becomes more attractive to businesses to locate and build businesses that will create jobs.

“So let’s get immigration reform done this year,” Obama said. “Let’s get it done. It’s time.”

WOMAN WORKFORCE AND MINIMUM WAGE

Although women make up half of U.S. workforce, Obama said, they still make 77 cents to every dollar a man makes. 

“That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment,” Obama said. “Women deserve equal pay for equal work.”

Obama asked Congress, the White House and Wall Street to come together and give women the same opportunities as men. He said when women succeed, America succeeds.

Obama also said he wants to raise minimum wage, and that five states already have heeded his words and done so. Raising minimum wage will boost morale and improve the American economy, he said. A bill that would raise minimum wage to $10.10 has been proposed, he said, and he asked Congress to get on board. Employees on minimum wage should not have to live in poverty, he said.

REPUBLICAN RESPONSE

Following Obama’s address, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., gave the official Republican response. She said the Obama administration’s policies have created an opportunity inequality that hinders Americans from finding work. Republicans have a plan to focus on jobs first without more spending, government bailouts and red tape, she said.

The Affordable Health Care Act, or Obamacare, has not lived up to what Obama promised, McMorris Rodgers also said. People have been charged high premiums, lost doctors they were told they could keep and received cancellation notices they didn’t expect, she said.

Lastly, McMorris Rodgers, like Jenkins, called on Obama to join Republicans “in a year of real action” and stop making American lives more difficult with spending, higher taxes and fewer jobs.

“If we’re successful, years from now our children will say that we rebuilt the American dream,” McMorris Rodgers said. “We built a working middle-class that could take in anyone, and a work force that could take on the world.”

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