President lays out an agenda that Republicans will not buy

Given the GREAT political divide in Washington, anything President Obama said Tuesday night in his first State of the Union speech of his second term would have been thrashed by Republicans. But, his call for more spending on infrastructure, manufacturing, energy development and education was dead on arrival.

The GOP, which controls the House of Representatives, has made it clear that cuts in government spending must be the top priority, and that the economy will pick up once the private sector is confident about investing.

The Republican response to the State of the Union was delivered by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Rubio took direct aim at Obama, saying his solution “to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more.”

The senator said presidents of both parties have recognized that the free enterprise system brings middle-class prosperity. He then added: “But President Obama? He believes it’s the cause of our problems.”

That, in a nutshell, is why Democrats and Republicans are unable to find common ground on even the simplest of issues.

All through his first term in office and during last year’s presidential campaign, Democrat Obama stressed that a strong middle class is the key to the nation’s economic recovery and growth.

Fueling the economy

He also said that the reluctance on the part of the private sector to invest and create jobs necessitates the federal government fueling the economy that has been stalled since the latter part of 2008 during the tenure of then President George W. Bush, a Republican.

“It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth — a rising, thriving middle class,” Obama said in his hour-long speech to the joint session of Congress. “It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country — the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like, or who you love.”

The president’s reference to the $70 million advanced manufacturing innovation institute in downtown Youngstown was music to the ears of the people of the Mahoning Valley. We’ll have more to say about the national recognition of the institute on Sunday.

In his address to Congress, Obama repeated a central theme of his first term and his re-election campaign: That government must work on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this nation.

“A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs, that must be the North Star that guides our efforts,” he said. “Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills they need to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?”

Knowing that the Republicans would declare the economic agenda he laid out a non-starter, Obama noted that his proposals are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to 18 months ago.

Since the speech was a reiteration of the platform he ran on — and won — the ball is now in the GOP’s court. The American people have made it clear they expect bipartisanship in dealing with the nation’s economic challenges and will not stand for continued political intransigence.

There was one issue discussed by the president Tuesday night that will attract support across the board: the draw down of American troops in Afghanistan.

The president said that 34,000 troops will be brought home in the next year, with the goal of an almost total withdrawal by end of the 2014. The war in Afghanistan has dragged on for more than 12 years. It has claimed more than 4,000 American lives and has cost more than $1 million.

Assault weapons

Other initiatives, such as a ban on assault weapons and oversized clips and national registration of gun owners, will be a hard sell, with Republicans and some Democrats. Even immigration reform, which Americans widely support, will be a tough nut to crack.

And you could almost hear rumblings when the president talked about the need raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour.

It’s going to take a while before the dust of the State of the Union speech settles, but in the meantime, the White House and Democrats and Republicans in Congress had better find a way of avoiding the forced across-the-board budget cuts that will take effect March 1.

Sequestration, as it is called, was agreed to by all sides during the negotiations to avoid the country going over the fiscal cliff.

Such spending cuts will set the economy back because of layoffs in and out of government.

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