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The Left in Congress Reacts to Obama's Address


It wasn’t hard to conclude last night that Republicans generally liked the President’s oratory but will oppose most of what he spelled out in his State of the Union address.  Whether the issue is freezing spending Obama-style or investments in the future, the President clearly will have a fight on his hands with the Republican majority in the House as well as the 47-seat Republican minority in the Senate.

But what about his own party?  In a Democratic Party that has been moving increasingly to the left in recent years, how do its leaders in Congress feel amid signs that the President is moving to the center in the manner of Bill Clinton after Republicans captured control of Congress in 1994?

“His speech meant there was no retreat on his agenda,” Rep. Sander Levin (D.-Mich), the last Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told HUMAN EVENTS last night, “The President was saying ‘Let’s work together’ and that was a good sign.”

But when HUMAN EVENTS asked Levin about the President’s call for freezing non-defense domestic discretionary spending and cutting government programs, the longtime keeper of the liberal flame in Michigan was a bit more reserved.

Levin, a former state Democratic chairman and Democratic nominee for governor of Michigan in 1970 and ’74, said he agreed with cutting certain programs and balancing the budget, “but let’s not do it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.  We’ve got to look at this more seriously.”

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D.-OH) , a leader of Progressive Democrats who ran for President on a decidedly leftist platform two years ago, was more combative.  Kucinich told us that he felt Obama “clearly understands the needs to move America on.  I liked when he spoke of our ‘Sputnik moment’ and generational responsibility to invest in the future.  In many ways, his call for investing in the future was like President Kennedy’s.”

But, added the former mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, “to do these things, we can’t be freezing domestic spending.  We’ve been increasingly cutting taxes too much.”  

Virginia’s 20-year Rep. Jim Moran said that as much as he liked the speech, “you can’t call for some of the advances in education and research and development that the President did and then try to freeze discretionary domestic spending.  That’s one-seventh of the budget and freezing it will sacrifice all of the things he was talking about doing.” 

Like Michigan’s Levin, Rep. Elliott Engel (D-NY) began by praising the speech but quickly made it clear there parts in it he had doubts about or disagreements with.

“It was quite a good speech and struck the right tone—a moderate, bipartisan spirit—and we need that after Tucson,” said Engel.

But when we asked if he agreed witih everything, the New Yorker said without hesitation: “No, there are thing in it I don’t like.”  Specifically, Engel pointed to the proposed spending freeze which he feared would hurt some of the “innovative things” he felt the President supported in his speech.

Engel said the President was right to try to deal  with the deficit but “we cannot overcome the deficit by spending cuts alone, as many Republicans are proposing.  Everybody ought to pay his fair share.”  He added that he opposed extending the tax cuts for higher wage earners that Obama agreed to during the lameduck session and said “we should never have cut the estate tax.”

Was Obama following in the path of Clinton in 1995?

“To a degree, yes,” Engel replied, “but he has not retreated on health care.  He’ll move to the middle when he has to, but I want him to stick to his guns.”