Republicans React to the Sorta SOTU

At last night’s State of the Union address, HUMAN EVENTS was on the scene, talking to members from the House and Senate, getting strong reactions from Republicans to the new President’s first speech before a joint session of Congress.

Mike Pence (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Republican Conference, told me, “I was heartened by the President’s newfound optimism about the American economy.  There is nothing quite as encouraging to the American people as having the American President come to the well of Congress and remind us that we’re Americans, we’ll get through this.  I also appreciate the President’s call for fiscal discipline, but it was somewhat contradicted by a long laundry list of liberal spending priorities in areas like healthcare, education and energy.  So there’ll be lots of opportunities for debate on those issues in the weeks and months ahead.  Again we welcome the President’s call for fiscal discipline but it would be helpful to see the President begin to articulate the kind of budget changes and the kind of budget discipline that would make that a reality here on Capitol Hill.” 

“I also was struck by what we didn’t hear,” Pence continued.  “Number one, I think you’ll hear House Republicans overwhelmingly oppose any effort to raise taxes on the American people in a time of recession.  More than half of the American people that pay taxes at or above the level the President announced tonight are small business owners who file individual tax returns.  Raising taxes on small businesses is precisely the wrong prescription for recovery in an ailing economy.  Secondly on that long list of energy priorities I didn’t hear the words domestic drilling.  While greater conservation is important and efficiency is important, alternative sources of energy are important they are no substituted for giving the American people more access to American oil.  The President’s failure to mention an expansion of our own domestic exploration for oil and natural gas was a glaring omission.”

In another potent reaction to the speech, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Az.) said, “Essentially he had us all bouncing our heads off of both sides of the canyon walls of philosophical reality when he went from on the one hand saying that we need to privatize personal Social Security accounts for everyone, which is essentially what George Bush said, and then on the other hand we need to nationalize the banks.  For him to suggest that he wants to cut the deficit in half in four years when he’ll have tripled it in two months I find that a little bit of a roller coaster ride philosophically.  And, of course, what I didn’t hear was how he plans to continue to protect this nation, as George Bush did, from the threat of jihadist terrorism.” 

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) told HUMAN EVENTS, “I’m concerned about the points that he made really that tell us big government is back.  Whether it is cap and trade, whether it is cradle to grave education, whether it is universal health care, the era of big government is here.  There is great concern over the amount of debt that we would end up accruing through this.  You know it’s interesting that as you look at what happened with the stimulus bill, already the CBO estimate is that the debt ceiling would have to be raised to 12 and one-half trillion to accommodate that bill.  We were at 10.7 as of January 3rd in our national debt.  So that raises concerns for me.  Now I think that we all understand that the nation is in recession, we all understand that the American people want something to be done.  I have a philosophical disagreement with the President over what we do and how we approach that.  I think our job is to have government create the environment in which the private sector and individuals can innovate and work our way out of debt.  From the speech tonight you’re left believing that he sees government as the solution to this and philosophically I disagree with that.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx.) reacted to the healthcare issues brought up by the President.  Cornyn said, “I think he is right, healthcare is going to bankrupt the federal government, particularly insofar as Medicare… but we need to talk about the means to the end.  If the means is to basically turn it over to the federal government, I don’t think that’s going to solve the problem, but if he’s interested in real reform, I’m happy to work on it.”

Rep. John Carter (R-Tx.) was concerned with the likelihood of Democrats raising taxes.  Carter told me, “When you mention cap and trade, you must remember that’s a tax burden — by their estimate about a $1.2 to a $1.5 trillion additional revenue from taxes.  That’s a tax that we didn’t get told the value of.  He may be able to say if you are a wage earner making $250,000 thousand a year and you won’t pay any more taxes, I don’t know, I’m skeptical.  If you’re earning money from any other source than wages where you have to pay any types of capital gains I’m afraid you are going to pay a significant tax burden.”

Another Texas conservative was concerned about tax increases.  Rep. Mike McCauley (R-Tx.) told me, “I think when you read between the lines on the taxes, what he didn’t tell you specifically is that there will be a tax increase on small business and families and that’s something that I don’t think Republicans are going to support.” 

Jeff Flake (R-Az.) quipped, “I particularly liked [the President’s] statement that he’s not a fan of big government but, unfortunately, it was contradicted by a lot of what followed in the speech.  There was some pretty big government outlined the rest of the time.”

Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.), listened to the speech with the booklet copy in hand, highlighting the parts he found interesting as the President spoke.  Gohmert told  me, “There were a couple of things that concerned me, for example, first we are creating a new lending fund that represents the largest effort ever to help provide auto loans, college loans and small business loans to consumers and entrepreneurs.  Uh-oh, what are we talking about here?  Is this a new Congressional bank because the last time we had a Congressional bank… I wasn’t here at the time, but I don’t think that worked out very well.  I would hate to see us return to the same sad old tired policy of past administrations.

“I also want to check the line that basically says that healthcare in America is a cause of a bankruptcy in every 30 seconds,” Gohmert continued.  “The judge in me wants to see the evidence that is actually what’s causing the bankruptcy every 30 seconds.  I’m serious.

“I didn’t have this speech in advance, I was just going through while he was giving it, but this was a great line, and hardly anybody gave it much applause.  He says, ‘We must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security.’  President Bush expended virtually all of his political capital in 2005 trying to reform Social Security… so I’m glad he brought that up.  That’s a good thing.  But then he adds, ‘while creating tax-free, universal savings accounts for all Americans.’  That’s fantastic, the Republicans should have been on their feet for that one I would have thought.  That’s the way you encourage people to save for themselves. That’s good stuff. … Maybe Republicans were too stunned, I’m not sure.

“One of the problems that we’ve seen with the economy is a lack of confidence,” Gohmert continued.  “He had the line toward the end, ‘Their resolve must be our inspiration, their concerns must be our cause and we must show them and our people that we are equal to the task before us.’  That’s a fantastic line.  That’s great.  That’s encouraging.  And now if he’ll just quit saying ‘crisis’ every other paragraph or ‘catastrophic’ or ‘catastrophe’ or ‘worst since the depression’ — if we can move those out and move forward knowing that we can fix what’s wrong, the I think we’re on our way to getting back healthy again.”