Resolute Obama vows to fight on


POSTED: Thursday, January 28, 2010

WASHINGTON » Declaring “;I don't quit,”; President Barack Obama fought to recharge his embattled presidency with a State of the Union vow to get unemployed millions back to work and to stand on the side of Americans angry at Wall Street greed and Washington bickering. Defiant despite stinging setbacks, he said he would fight on for ambitious overhauls of health care, energy and education.

“;Change has not come fast enough,”; Obama acknowledged last night before a politician-packed House chamber and a TV audience of millions. “;As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may be, it's time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth.”;

Obama looked to change the conversation from how his presidency is stalling — over the messy health care debate, a limping economy and Christmas Day's barely averted terrorist disaster — to how he is seizing the reins. He spoke to a nation gloomy about double-digit unemployment and federal deficits soaring to a record $1.4 trillion, and to fellow Democrats dispirited about the fallen standing of a president they hoped would carry them through this fall's midterm elections.





        The Hawaii congressional delegation's reaction to President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech:

» Sen. Daniel Inouye: ”;This State of the Union address is the most inspiring I have heard so far. I felt uplifted. Tonight's speech should bring about some reaction among the people and the people will be insisting on more bipartisanship. If I were to give a negative, the spectrum of issues and problems he covered may have been a bit too much.”;


» Sen. Daniel Akaka: “;We must create private sector jobs through investments in small businesses, clean renewable energy, and road and rail projects, because better jobs mean more security for working families. I share the president's commitment to reforming our health care system and expanding access to quality health care.”;


» Rep. Neil Abercrombie: “;This was the Barack Obama we all voted for. Tonight's speech was a lesson in dignified conversation. “;It was a real masterpiece of conversation — he wasn't speaking at them, he was speaking with them. There has been such a negative atmosphere in the last few weeks. This was a reconnection with people. It refocuses the necessity of passing health care reform. The politics of health care have been center stage, but he refocused it, just saying no to health care doesn't get you anywhere in terms of rising premiums.”;


» Rep. Mazie Hirono: ”;I liked his clear focus on jobs — it was what we worked on in the House. I would say jobs and the economy were key. The jobs bills that provide more support for infrastructure, support for education — those are things that will make a real difference to our educational system and for Hawaii.”;




Richard Borreca, Star-Bulletin


With State of the Union messages traditionally delivered at the end of January, Obama had one of the presidency's biggest platforms just a week after Republicans scored an upset takeover of a Senate seat in Massachusetts, prompting hand-wringing about his leadership. With the turnover erasing Democrats' Senate supermajority needed to pass most legislation, it also put a cloud over health care and possibly the rest of Obama's agenda.

Obama implored lawmakers to press forward with his prized health care overhaul, in severe danger in Congress. “;Do not walk away from reform,”; he said. “;Not now. Not when we are so close.”;

Republicans applauded the president when he entered the chamber and craned to welcomed Michelle Obama. But bipartisanship disappeared early, with Republicans sitting stone-faced through several rounds of emphatic Democratic cheering and as Obama took a sharp jab at GOP congressional strategy. “;Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership,”; he said.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, appointed by President George W. Bush, made a dismissive face, shook his head in disagreement and seemed to mouth the words “;not true”; as Obama said the court in a recent decision had “;reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections.”;

The president devoted about two-thirds of his speech to the economic worries foremost on Americans' minds as recession persists. “;The devastation remains,”; he said.

Obama emphasized his ideas, some new but mostly old and explained anew, for restoring job growth, taming budget deficits and changing a Washington so polarized that “;every day is Election Day.”; Such roots of intense voter emotions once drove supporters to Obama but now are turning on him as he governs.

Declaring that “;I know the anxieties”; of Americans' struggling to pay the bills while big banks get bailouts and bonuses, Obama prodded Congress to enact a second stimulus package “;without delay,”; urging that it contain help for small businesses and funding for infrastructure projects. Also, fine-tuning a plan first announced in October, Obama said he will initiate a $30 billion program to provide money to community banks at low rates, if they boost lending to small businesses. The money would come from balances left in the $700 billion Wall Street rescue fund — a program “;about as popular as a root canal”; that Obama made of point of saying “;I hated.”;

Acknowledging frustration at the government's habit of spending more than it has, he said he would veto any bills that do not adhere to his demand for a three-year freeze on some domestic spending. He announced a new, though nonbinding bipartisan deficit-reduction task force (while supporting the debt-financed jobs bill). He said he would cut $20 billion in inefficient programs in next year's budget and pore over it “;line by line”; to find more.

Positioning himself as a fighter for the regular guy, he urged Congress to require lobbyists to disclose all contacts with lawmakers or members of his administration and to blunt the impact of last week's Supreme Court decision allowing corporations greater flexibility in supporting or opposing candidates. “;We face a deficit of trust,”; the president said.

Even before Obama spoke, some of the new proposals, many revealed by the White House in advance, were dismissed as poorly targeted or too modest to make a difference. And one of Obama's economic point men, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, was verbally pummeled by Democrats and Republicans alike about his role in the $180 billion bailout of insurance giant AIG Inc., a venting of the public's anger at Wall Street.

In the Republican response to Obama's speech, Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia showed no sign of his party capitulating to the president.

In fact, the choice of McDonnell to represent Republicans was a symbolic showcase of recent GOP election victories by him and others. McDonnell reflected the anti-big government sentiment that helped lead to their wins, saying, “;Today, the federal government is simply trying to do too much.”;

In his speech, Obama hoped to rekindle the energy of his historic election. But he may have taxed viewers' patience with an address that ran to an hour and nine minutes with applause — longer than any since the Clinton era despite aides' labors to whittle it down.

Obama took blame for not adequately explaining his plans to the public and connecting with their everyday worries.

“;I campaigned on the promise of change, 'change we can believe in,' the slogan went,”; he said. “;And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren't sure if they still believe we can change, or at least that I can deliver it.”;


Key points

Highlights of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address:



» Urged the Senate to follow the House and pass a financial overhaul bill to protect consumers from industry abuses and make sure they have the information they need to make decisions about what to do with their money.



» Urged Democrats dispirited by the loss of their 60-vote Senate supermajority not to abandon the yearlong effort to overhaul the health care system.



» Proposed a three-year freeze on most domestic spending, beginning in 2011. Spending on national security, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security would be exempt.



» Called for requiring lobbyists to report each contact with his administration or Congress.
» Called for “;strict limits”; on lobbyist contributions to candidates for federal office.



» Reiterated his pledge to remove all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the end of August.



» Pledged to work with Congress and the military to allow gays to serve openly in the military.

;[Preview]    President's State of the Union address applauded

Both Democrats and Republicans were happy to hear the president's remarks on a new small business tax credit.

Watch ]



» Urged Congress to eliminate taxpayer subsidies for banks that provide student loans.
» Proposed a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college, along with higher Pell Grants.



» Said the government should continue working to fix a broken system by securing borders and enforcing laws.



» Urged Senate passage of comprehensive energy and climate legislation to help the country shift toward cleaner energy sources and create jobs.



» Proposed monthly meetings with both the Democratic and Republican leadership in Congress.