WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — Trying to lift the nation and his own political fortunes, President Barack Obama on Tuesday sought to promote a jobs agenda blending concentrated spending and a fresh bid to control the country’s staggering debt. He faced a more skeptical and divided Congress and an electorate demanding results in an economy-heavy State of the Union address.
“Now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable,” Obama said.
The president proposed a five-year freeze on nondefense spending that would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade. He agreed to work with lawmakers on deeper cuts in the budget, vowed to veto bills with lawmakers’ pet projects and called for simplifying the tax code. He also asked Congress to eliminate the billions in subsidies to oil companies and tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.
Politicians in the Tri-State area reacted by releasing statements soon after the State of the Union speech.
New York Senator Chuck Schumer said the president “offered a balanced approach that hopefully can garner bipartisan support.”
“It makes sense to cut programs that are wasteful and unnecessary, but grow the programs that are needed to preserve the American dream,” he said in a statement.
Rep. Peter King (R-NY) told 1010 WINS he thought Obama’s speech was “well delivered and “optimistic.”
“I believe he probably set the right tone when he said we have to start cutting back on spending,” King said.
King was also critical about the president alluding to “increasing investment,” which the Long Island lawmaker called “another word for spending.”
Obama also called for investing in biomedical research, information technology and clean energy technology. Among his goals: 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 and 80 percent of U.S. electricity from clean energy sources, including nuclear and clean coal as well as solar and wind.
“We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices, the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers, of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It’s how we make a living,” Obama said.
The president also made mention of India and China and said those countries were able to “compete in this new world,” with their emphasis “on math and science.”
“The world has changed. The competition for jobs is real. But this shouldn’t discourage us. It should challenge us,” the president said.
In a statement, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez said when the “nation competes and wins on a global economic scale, it creates good-paying jobs at home.”
“The competitiveness agenda President Obama outlined tonight is one that will help our nation win the 21st Century, and I look forward to helping it take shape in the Senate,” Menendez said.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) also said he looked forward to helping the president with his “strong, progressive vision for America.”
“The values are right on, and now it’s time to stand up for them,” Rep. Anthony Weiner said.
In the audience Tuesday night sat a new Congress dominated in the House by Republicans, sitting elbow-to-elbow with political opponents rather than in the traditional arrangement with Republicans to the president’s left, and Democrats to his right.
Many in both parties wore black-and-white lapel pins, signifying the deaths of Tucson victims and the hopes of the survivors, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the speech “powerful” and said it “rightly called for a new spirit of civility and cooperation in our public discourse.”
Bloomberg, however, was critical of Obama for not using his mention of the Arizona shootings to bring up his call for background checks for those wanting to purchase guns.
“Its absence was disappointing, but it will not slow the momentum we are building around the country,” Bloomberg said.
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens) said he heard a “touch of realism” in Tuesday’s address.
“I think that he helped everybody to understand that we’re really going to have to work together to make anything happen,” he told 1010 WINS.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said the president’s speech demanded the need to “continue the spirit of goodwill.”
“We need to keep working together, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans who are committed to a growing economy and a better future for America’s middle class,” Gillibrand said.
The president also used the speed to strongly defend his health care overhaul law and mark the end of the ban on gays serving openly in the military.