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Republicans' reaction to Obama speech is lukewarm -- and that's a start

September 08, 2011|By Lisa Mascaro, Washington Bureau
(Kevin Lamarque / Reuters )

President Obama's call for new political unity behind his jobs bill was met with a reaction best summed up in two words: We'll see. 

GOP leaders in the House and Senate quickly expressed skepticism about the part of the president's package aimed at building roads or renovating schools to put Americans back to work. But politically popular tax cuts for workers and employers appeared to be hard for Republicans to resist.  

"The proposals the president outlined tonight merit consideration," House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement after the president's speech. "We hope he gives serious consideration to our ideas as well."

In today's hyper-partisan Washington, such a tepid statement could be considered a small victory for the president. The White House was probably also encouraged by comments from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who earlier in the day acknowledged that the payroll tax cut extension would be "part of the mix" and said he saw common ground on unemployment insurance programs.

"We do have disagreements.  We're not going to agree wholly on how we get this economy back on track," Cantor told reporters at a Thursday lunch hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "But there are areas we can agree on."

Not all Republicans hit such warm notes.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, dismissed an advance copy of the president's joint address to Congress before the speech was given. Several "tea party"-aligned Republicans sat it out.

"This isn't a jobs plan," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "It's a reelection plan."

"The president just doesn’t get it," said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. "No economic plan can succeed that ignores our staggering and surging debt."

At the same time, the president’s traditional allies in Congress, including liberals in both houses, have become increasingly frustrated that Obama has shied from presenting bolder proposals more aligned with traditional Democratic ideals.

The White House only nominally consulted with congressional Democrats in advance of the rare joint-session address. The administration did not talk with Republicans at all, congressional aides said.

One proposal in the president’s plan, an unemployment program modeled on one in Georgia that places jobless workers in temporary positions, has drawn fire from labor unions.

"This is not a moment for incremental steps or timid half-measures," said Democratic Reps. Raul M. Grijalva, Keith Ellison, Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey in a op-ed. "We cannot afford to play small ball when American families are hurting this much."

But Democratic leaders appeared to be firmly onboard.

"President Obama offered a clear path to help small businesses succeed and hire, provide tax relief for our workers, rebuild America, and provide aid to those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. "It will put Americans back to work and it will be paid for."

Kathleen Hennessey and Michael A. Memoli in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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