- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 28, 2010

Saying he’s heard the fears of an anxious nation, President Obama on Wednesday night told Americans he won’t scrap the agenda that won him the White House, but he repackaged his push for health care reform and much of the rest of his priorities as means to boost the economy.

Mr. Obama, trapped between swelling deficits and calls for more spending on jobs, said he’ll freeze the salaries of the highest-paid federal employees, will create a commission to offer ideas on tackling debt, and proposed a freeze on non-security discretionary spending in 2011.

But he said Congress must still spend money on a jobs package in 2010, and he challenged lawmakers to be bold in following through on what they started this year on health care reform and global warming and to rein in Wall Street excesses.

“I campaigned on the promise of change — ‘change we can believe in,’ the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change — or at least, that I can deliver it,” Mr. Obama said in his first State of the Union address.

“But remember this — I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone. Democracy in a nation of 300 million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That’s just how it is.”

Voters weren’t the only uneasy audience Mr. Obama sought to soothe. He alluded to his party’s stunning loss in Massachusetts — in which Republican Sen.-elect Scott Brown destroyed Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority — but made it clear he’s not giving up on his priorities. Instead, he called on both parties to set aside election-year politics and cooperate.

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“I know it’s an election year. And after last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern,” he said.

“To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well.” At the same time, the president extended an open hand to the minority party, saying he’ll work with Republicans where they can find common ground.

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, delivering the Republican response, called on the president to go further and chuck much of his agenda and instead opt for a more modest set of priorities that doesn’t expand the federal government.

“Top-down, one-size-fits-all decision making should not replace the personal choices of free people in a free market, nor undermine the proper role of state and local governments in our system of federalism. As our Founders clearly stated, and we governors understand, government closest to the people governs best,” said Mr. McDonnell, who earned headlines last fall for trouncing his Democratic opponent in a state that went for Mr. Obama one year earlier.

Mr. Obama was repeatedly interrupted by applause during his 1-hour-and-10-minute speech, though as often as not it was one party applauding while the other sat silently. And while Mr. Obama called for bipartisanship, he also repeatedly tossed barbs at Republicans over their record during the Bush administration.

The president took a lecturing tone in his speech, admonishing Republicans not to abuse their newfound ability to filibuster in the Senate.

“Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership,” he said, drawing a bemused laugh from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Indeed, a little more than a year after his inauguration, Mr. Obama and his fellow Democrats find themselves in a vastly different political climate as their $862 billion economic stimulus bill has not stemmed job losses, their efforts on global warming have stalled and their efforts to overhaul health care have been shelved.

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