DEMS ROAR, GOP SITS Obama fo­cuses on job growth, seeks new stim­u­lus pack­age, while vow­ing to push for­ward on health re­form

Chicago Sun-Times - - Front Page - BY JEN­NIFER LOVEN

WASH­ING­TON — Declar­ing “We don’t quit. I don’t quit,” an em­bat­tled Pres­i­dent Obama vowed in his first State of the Union ad­dress Wed­nes­day night to make job growth his top pri­or­ity and urged a di­vided Congress to boost the still-ail­ing econ­omy with fresh stim­u­lus spending. De­fi­ant de­spite sting­ing set­backs, he said he would not aban­don am­bi­tious plans for longer-term fixes to health care, en­ergy, ed­u­ca­tion and more.

“Change has not come fast enough,” Obama said be­fore a 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 the mis­steps that led to Christ­mas Day’s barely averted ter­ror­ist dis­as­ter — to how he is seiz­ing the reins.

His chief de­mand was for law­mak­ers to press for­ward with his prized health-care over­haul, which is in se­vere dan­ger in Congress and to re­sist the temp­ta­tion to sub­sti­tute a lesser so­lu­tion for the far-reach­ing changes he wants.

“Do not walk away from re­form,” he im­plored. “Not now. Not when we are so close.”

Repub­li­cans ap­plauded the pres­i­dent when he en­tered the cham­ber and even craned their necks and wel­comed Michelle Obama when she took her seat. But the warm feel­ings of bi­par­ti­san­ship dis­ap­peared early.

Democrats jumped to their feet and roared when Obama said he wanted to im­pose a new fee on banks, while Repub­li­cans sat stone-faced. Democrats stood and ap­plauded when Obama men­tioned the eco­nomic stim­u­lus pack­age passed last Fe­bru­ary. Repub­li­cans sat and stared.

On na­tional se­cu­rity, Obama pro­claimed some suc­cess, say­ing that “far more” al-Qaida ter­ror­ists were killed un­der his watch last year in the U.S.-led global fight than in 2008.

The pres­i­dent de­voted about two-thirds of his speech to the eco­nomic wor­ries fore­most on Amer­i­cans’ minds, em­pha­siz­ing his ideas, some new but mostly old and ex­plained anew, for restor­ing job growth, tam­ing bud­get deficits and chang­ing a po­lar­ized Wash­ing­ton “where ev­ery day is Elec­tion Day.”

Th­ese con­cerns are at the roots of voter emo­tions that once drove sup­port­ers to Obama but now are turn­ing on him as he gov­erns.

Declar­ing “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,” spec­i­fy­ing that it should con­tain a range of mea­sures to help 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, pro­vided they agree to in­crease 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” — about which he made of point of say­ing, “I hated.”

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

The choice of McDon­nell to rep­re­sent Repub­li­cans was sym­bolic, meant to show­case re­cent GOP elec­tion vic­to­ries by him and oth­ers.

McDon­nell re­flected the an­tibig gov­ern­ment sen­ti­ment that helped lead to their wins, say­ing in ex­cerpts from his own post­speech re­marks that Amer­i­cans want good health care they can af­ford, just not by turn­ing over “the best med­i­cal care sys­tem in the world to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.”


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