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Jobs, partisanship and healthcare addressed during State of the Union

Published 11:01am Thursday, January 28, 2010

Niles Daily Star

The president’s first official State of the Union is being received with mixed reviews this morning from analysts, pundits and members of both parties.

The focus was primarily on jobs Wednesday night, and while President Obama made it clear that the work done by legislators over the past year had kept 2 million Americans working who might not be otherwise, he acknowledged there is still plenty of work to be done in tackling the country’s unemployment problem.

“The devastation remains,” he said. “One in 10 Americans still cannot find work. Many businesses have shuttered. Home values have declined. Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard. And for those who’d already known poverty, life has become that much harder.”

Those hard times, he said, were at least supplemented with extended unemployment benefits, cheaper healthcare through COBRA and cuts in taxes for working families.

Still, those comments were met with applause by the president’s party alone – something he acknowledged.

“I thought I’d get some applause on that one,” he said.

Obama said he wanted to see $30 billion in dollars paid back by Wall Street financial institutions be used to lend to small businesses and entrepreneurs in order to “stay afloat” and fuel more business.
That’s one thing, Mike Garey, chairman of the Berrien County Republican Party, said left him with a few questions.

“He did talk about lowering capital gains taxes on small businesses for equipment purchases,” Garey said. “I’m disappointed that he was throwing a lot of money at a lot of programs without any mention of how he was going to support these new programs. (He said) $30 billion would go towards helping banks loan money to small businesses. That’s fine to say, but how are you going to do that and where’s the money going to come from?”

Despite what some might say were a lack of specifics, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm was pleased.
“I think the president gave a wonderful speech tonight,” she said. “And I believe the people of Michigan will take heart that President Obama is focused like a laser on the one thing we need most – jobs.”

Congressman Fred Upton said he was happy to hear the president talk about “kitchen table issues.”
“Folks are desperate for a chance at honest work, a steady job to provide for their loved ones, and jobs should be number one,” he said. “The nation has lost one in five manufacturing jobs, with Michigan suffering the most, but expanding nuclear power is a positive start, and we can create hundreds of thousands of quality, good paying jobs in the process.”

Obama’s hope for the future of nuclear energy is something Garey said he was very happy to hear.
“I thought that he did show support for some important issues for our local area and that’s really his support for moving forward with the expanding of nuclear energy,” Garey said. “Nuclear energy is a huge economic opportunity for Berrien County.”

Obama did not shy away from the controversial subject of healthcare reform – which has continued to be a source of struggle for Democrats desperate for a healthcare bill and Republicans who are refusing to hand such a bill over easily.

“I think there are several things (in the bill) that the republican party has sponsored,” Garey said.
But, he added he felt “incremental changes” could be made rather than submitting an all inclusive bill all at once.

“I give him credit for starting the conversation,” he said.

Partisanship was evident during last night’s speech with as democrats cheered on Obama and republicans sat still and stoic in their seats.

“President Obama had the right focus and set the right tone tonight,” democratic Sen. Carl Levin said following the speech. “His focus was right where it belongs: on jobs and the economy, and on reforming the financial sector to end the abuses and excesses that put us in the economic hole we’re in.”

The issue of partisanship was addressed by the president as well, as he said many Americans don’t want to see their government working against each other, but rather together to get things done.

“Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions – our corporations, our media, and yes, our government – still reflect these same values,” Obama said. “Each of these institutions are full of honorable men and women doing important work that helps our country prosper. But each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people’s doubts grow. Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away.”

Garey agreed that the perception of Washington has added to the effects of partisanship.

“I think that there has always been partisan politics at any level,” he said. “I think something that has changed in the last 20 years is the 24-hour news cycle, where everything is being presented all the time.
“I think it adds to the bipartisan,” he said, “the anger and the feelings that there’s not anything being done.”

But in a lot of ways, Garey added, he feels Congress does work together.

As the president moves forward with his initiatives, one might imagine he shares in the hope that they continue to do so.

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