CONGRESS • BY MARK MILLER, CNS
President Obama set out a blueprint for an economy “built to last” — calling for business tax reform, an end to oil subsidies, citizenship for immigrant scholars and clean energy development — and challenged Congress to set aside partisan politics and get things done.
“None of these reforms can happen unless we also lower the temperature in this town. We need to end the notion that the two parties must be locked in a perpetual campaign of mutual destruction,” Obama said in his State of the Union address Tuesday. “With or without Congress, I will keep taking actions that help the economy grow. But I can do a whole lot more with your help. Because when we act together, there is nothing the United States of America can’t achieve.”
The call to action was well-received by the Maryland congressional delegation — even from Republicans.
“He gave a great speech. He always gives a great speech,” said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick. “Most of it could have been given by a Republican, except for some parts.”
Those parts include what Bartlett said was a mischaracterization of the capital gains tax, a second tax on that income, he said.
“I would expect most wealthy people to have a lower percent (of tax paid) because most of them are living on capital gains.”
His fellow Republican Rep. Andy Harris was less charitable, saying, “There was just nothing new this year…. He’s just playing the blame game.”
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, agreed with Bartlett — at least on the quality of the speech.
“I thought it was an excellent speech,” he said, adding that he and his whip’s office “are going to continue to make sure, as the president said, that we’re operating efficiently and effectively.”
The substance of the speech was “a very forceful statement” for long-term economic development, said John Sarbanes, D-Towson. He also remarked on Obama’s call for cooperation, saying that’s when the nation works best.
Gov. Martin O’Malley, who attended the speech, praised the president’s address for its “fearlessness” and said Obama focused on the important things — jobs and job creation.
Obama took the Congress to task, almost ordering the members to approve his agenda.
“As long as I’m president, I will work with anyone in this chamber to build on this momentum. But I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place,” Obama said.
Partisanship brought the nation to the brink of default on its debts over the summer, as the White House and House Republicans repeatedly could not close a deal on raising the debt ceiling — the amount the government is permitted to borrow. Later, a bipartisan commission failed to agree on a plan to cut the national debt by $1.2 trillion — a condition of the deal that solved the debt-ceiling stalemate — triggering expected cuts after November’s election.
A vote on the issue is scheduled in the Senate Thursday, where it’s expected senators will vote down a House bill expressing opposition to an automatic hike of $1.2 trillion, included in the deal finally negotiated in August.
But this week’s vote just calls attention to the fact that the Obama administration and Republicans cannot reach agreement on fiscal issues, particularly with the presidential election on the horizon.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, who served on the bipartisan panel that tried to reach a deficit-cutting deal, said Obama delivered a good summation of his term so far.
“He made it clear that we’re stronger together, but we can’t wait,” Van Hollen said.
The Maryland delegation at least put on a good show of bipartisanship for the State of the Union speech.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, both the senior women senators from their party, sat together, heeding the call from the moderate think tank Third Way and the grassroots moderate group No Labels to set aside partisan labels during the address.
They were joined in defying the conventional party seating arrangement by Maryland’s junior Sen. Ben Cardin, who sat with his co-sponsor on his “Hotel for Heroes” bill, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.; and Bartlett, who for the second year sat next to his colleague on the House Committee on Small Business, Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., as well as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who is originally from Maryland.
Cardin said sitting with Wicker “wasn’t just symbolic; we really want to work together…”
“We have to rebuild America,” Cardin said, “We have to invest in our roads, bridges, and energy grids.”
Bartlett also brought a guest to the event, Army Reserve Sgt. Joseph Beeman, a wounded warrior from Cascade, Md., in Bartlett’s 6th Congressional District; as did Van Hollen, D-Kensington, who brought John Mendez, an outreach worker for Bethesda Cares, which works on public policy on homelessness and poverty.
Capital News Service reporters Madeline Marshall, Nick Foley, Varun Saxena, Rob Bock and Sarah Hogue contributed to this report.