In Jobs Speech, Obama Scores Points With Both Parties On Capitol Hill
WASHINGTON - Congressional lawmakers were quick to offer boilerplate responses to President Barack Obama's jobs speech on Thursday night, but none were able to answer the most pressing political and policy question: Does the $450 billion package, or any major jobs proposal, have a real chance of passage?
Just off the House floor, where House and Senate lawmakers had convened moments earlier to hear the president speak, the consensus wasn't clear. The good news for Obama is that key Republicans didn't reject his plan outright. And given the level of partisan rhetoric typically coming out of this Congress, that speaks volumes.
"The proposals the President outlined tonight merit consideration," Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. "We hope he gives serious consideration to our ideas as well."
Republicans said they liked a number of the president's ideas, namely his calls for loosening federal regulations and giving tax breaks to small businesses. But by and large, their biggest concern was how to pay for the sweeping proposal.
"I agreed with some of it, but my brain quit calculating on the number because it got so big," said Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), who sits on the House Appropriations Committee.
"At a time when we've got a spending crisis, the pay-fors sound like they're going to be- they can't just be for billionaires and millionaires because that's not going to work."
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said he, too, supported several of Obama's proposals for loosening regulations. But he said it is a mistake for the president to ask the so-called super committee to figure out how to pay for the package. By punting the matter to the committee, which is faced with the daunting task of figuring out where to cut more than $1.2 trillion, King said Obama is setting up a partisan cage match over making cuts to defense versus entitlements.
"It is an extremely heavy lift for Congress to come up with something like this," King said. "The president essentially tossed a cat into the kennel. Now he's going to stand back and watch the fur fly."
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), a Tea Party favorite, said even he saw "a glimmer of hope" in Obama's speech when he addressed the need to reform Medicare. And for the most part, West said the president seemed to be speaking in good faith to Republicans as he laid out his proposals.
"Toward the end it started to be a little bit of finger pointing," West said, citing a line from the speech about Congress needing to get to work and do its job. "It is time for us to meet our responsibilities? I think we've been doing that."
Meanwhile, Democrats praised Obama for mapping out big picture job-creation proposals and putting the burden on Republicans to say what they would do instead.
"That was a good, high energy speech to get America back on track," said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.).
"There was still a lot of tension in the House, even on some pretty easy issues," Cooper said, referring to moments in the House chamber when whole sections of lawmakers would not stand or applaud. "So it's going to be necessary for Congress to buckle down and work and start behaving properly."
Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) said the fact that Republicans didn't visibly support most of Obama's speech illustrated that they are more interested in playing politics than getting something done.
"Do something about jobs or do nothing about jobs," Andrews said. "The room graphically portrayed that choice."
Some Democrats said they were hoping for more detailed ideas from Obama. Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.), who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said she, for one, wants to know how the president's proposals would specifically help low-income and unemployed people.
"How many of these ideas are going to put those people to work next week or next month?" she asked. "A tax credit is not going to get the people in my district employed. I hope that we'll reevaluate some of these things and say, 'What's going to get these people to work?'"
Ultimately, lawmakers were all over the board on whether they thought Obama's jobs package could actually become law. The president is expected to submit an actual bill, The American Jobs Act, to Congress next week.
"There's no guarantee that this thing can be passed, but there's no guarantee on anything," said House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.).
"There was some stuff in there that Republicans clapped for. Obviously there were some things I really liked, and there were some things I didn't like so much. Stuff about Social Security, Medicare ... but you know what, I'm looking at it from a big picture," Becerra said.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said she thinks Obama's plan could "absolutely" pass Congress and called on unemployed people to push politicians to act on the bill.
"I think if everyone who wants a job, everyone who wants to keep the job they have, called Congress, I think that Congress would get the message," she said.
But House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said he didn't think Obama expected Congress to actually pass his plan in full.
"I don't think he's proposing a bill that he expects to be passed or be brought up in the House," Issa said. "But there are elements in the bill that we believe do need attention."
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Republicans would be on board to work with Obama to pass some kind of jobs bill and said the House is capable of getting something done, "but it's the Senate side that needs help."
Other lawmakers had an altogether different review of the president's speech. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) told reporters he was mesmerized by Obama's skill with teleprompters.
"It is a head dance, just a beautiful thing," Gohmert said, moving his head from side to side. "Back and forth, three to five seconds between the teleprompters. ... He is so good. I mean I don't need sound, I can just sit there and admire how good he is at going back and forth between those two teleprompters."