President Barack Obama is right to focus on improving economic conditions for America’s middle class, Washington and Idaho senators of both parties agreed after the speech.
They disagreed, however, on whether he has the right solutions.
He’s right that Americans have made sacrifices, hanging on with initiative and hard work for years, said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. He’s also right that some parts of the country have turned the corner while others haven’t, she said.
“Seattle would definitely say that they turned the corner,” Cantwell said. “I don’t know if all of the rest of Washington would say that.”
Focusing on innovation and trade plays to Washington’s economic strengths, Cantwell said. Washington Democrat Patty Murray said some of Obama’s proposals, such as one that would provide free tuition at community college to learn new skills, would help working people overcome economic barriers.
“I just think it’s a smart investment,” Murray said. Expanding tax breaks for things like child care expenses would also help working families, she said.
Idaho Republican Jim Risch said the president, as usual, delivered “a good populist speech” that was long on rhetoric and short on specifics and solutions. He was disappointed Obama didn’t address what Risch believes is the nation’s biggest problem, the growing debt and deficit.
Although the main focus of the speech was the economy, Risch contended government does not control the economy, and its actions are more likely to hurt than help it.
“The most important thing the government can do is get out of the American people’s way,” he said.
Obama spent much of the speech talking about new programs he’d like to start, which sounds like more “tax and spend” governing, said Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho. The president is right that the deficit is declining, but that’s only because it shot up so high early in his presidency to fund his recovery programs, he added.
Raising the capital gains tax to pay for many new programs would hurt the economy, Crapo said.
“I disagree with any tax increase,” he said. But taxing investment gains would drive investors out of the U.S. economy “at the very time we need to have greater capital investment.”
If Republicans really want tax reform, like they’ve been saying for years, they have to be willing to at least consider the president’s tax plan when it’s released in the coming weeks, Murray said. If so, the final package may be different, but “we can get a deal done.”
Obama said he wanted to work with Republicans in Congress, but Crapo and Risch both noted that Obama also threatened to veto legislation on key issues like health care reform and immigration. Congress likely will reject his call for normalizing relations with Cuba, Risch said.
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said in a news release that Obama seemed “unfazed” by the results of the last election, which put Republicans in charge of Congress. The economy has turned the page, Labrador agreed, but the turnaround happened when Republicans took over the House. “It happened in spite of him, not because of him.”
Spokane Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, said in a news release that the president wasn’t standing up for people struggling to make ends meet but rather “the old, outdated, top-down approach of the past.”
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