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STATE OF THE UNION

Republicans say Obama offers up the status quo

They dismiss his call for investment in education and technology as a push for more spending.

January 26, 2011|James Oliphant and Michael A. Memoli

WASHINGTON — Republicans dismissed President Obama's State of the Union address as more of the same, saying his call for renewed investment in American education, infrastructure and technology was simply a push for another round of federal spending that shows little commitment to reducing the deficit.

"Whether sold as 'stimulus' or repackaged as 'investment,' their actions show they want a federal government that controls too much, taxes too much, and spends too much in order to do too much," said Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, in the GOP's official address after Obama's speech.

"We believe the days of business-as-usual must come to an end," Ryan said. "We hold to a couple of simple convictions: Endless borrowing is not a strategy; spending cuts have to come first."

Ryan's address was part of an unusual two-pronged retort to the president's speech. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota also delivered a response -- on behalf, she said, of the "tea party." She chairs the House Tea Party Caucus.

"For two years President Obama made promises just like the ones we heard him make tonight," Bachmann said, according to prepared remarks. "Yet we still have high unemployment, devalued housing prices, and the cost of gasoline is skyrocketing."

Not every prominent Republican ripped the president. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate minority leader, welcomed Obama's support for a five-year freeze on federal discretionary spending.

"I like the fact that he wants to do something about spending," McConnell said. "However, freezing government spending for five years at the increased levels of the last two years is really not enough. We need to reduce domestic spending substantially. And I hope the president will work with us to achieve that."

McConnell said the president's posture appeared to have shifted in light of the gains the GOP has made in the House and Senate.

"It sounds to me like the president's changed the tone and the rhetoric from the first two years," he said. "And I think that's an appropriate adjustment in the wake of last year's election, when the American people said basically they want to go in a different direction."

In his response, delivered immediately after Obama's address, Ryan strongly denounced the fiscal course of the administration and Democratic Congress over the last two years.

He did acknowledge that his own party shares responsibility for the growing debt, and that Americans are justifiably "skeptical of both political parties." He asked the nation to hold Republicans accountable going forward.

To that end, he pointed to action the Republican-controlled House has already taken, first to cut its own budget and on Tuesday to revert spending to 2008 levels. Further reductions are an "imperative," Ryan said.

"We are at a moment where, if government's growth is left unchecked and unchallenged, America's best century will be considered our past century," Ryan said.

Ryan spoke from the hearing room of the House Budget Committee he chairs, which Republicans said was ground zero for the Democrats' "spending spree" the last two years.

Obama's stimulus program cost too much and did nothing to reduce unemployment, Ryan said, while the healthcare law passed last year only "[accelerated] our country toward bankruptcy."

The first confrontation between Obama and the GOP since the new Congress convened will come in a matter of weeks, when lawmakers must vote to raise the limit on the federal debt.

Ryan was a member of Obama's bipartisan fiscal commission, but he was one of seven members who voted to reject its final recommendations.

Ryan has issued his own budget blueprint, called A Roadmap for American's Future, which recommends major changes to entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare. But even some Republicans have been reluctant to embrace his recommendations.

Democrats spent the day accusing Ryan, and by proxy the GOP, of wanting to privatize Social Security and eliminate Medicare.

Republican leaders largely kept their distance from Bachmann's independent response.

Speaking directly to the rank and file of the tea party and other conservatives, Bachmann praised their energy. "Thanks to you, there's reason to hope that real spending cuts are coming," she said. "I believe that we are in the early days of a history-making turn."

Bachmann's speech was delayed because she was stuck in motorcade traffic after Obama's address. The Tea Party Express website, which was supposed to stream her address, instead showed a whitehouse.gov live stream that featured a conversation with senior officials hosted by Kal Penn.

joliphant@latimes.com

michael.memoli@latimes.com

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