- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Picking a fight with his own party, President Obama on Tuesday called for ending earmark spending and proposed a five-year partial budget freeze in his first State of the Union address before a Congress packed with newly ascendant Republicans eager to cut even more deeply.

In a broad 62-minute speech in which he called for rejuvenating America’s innovative spirit — what he called “our generation’s Sputnik moment” — Mr. Obama said the economy is beginning to bounce back, and said now is the time to push forward with a job-growing agenda.

But even as he promised to rein in spending, Mr. Obama vowed to invest in roads and infrastructure, to revamp education and to simplify the corporate and personal income-tax codes, calling the moves a down payment on longer-term fiscal moves to restore the country’s finances.

“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,” Mr. Obama said. “Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.”

Still, the speech struck many of the same themes the president has pitched over the last year: His spending freeze is simply an extension of an earlier three-year pledge, and his call for an infrastructure bank is a reworking of a widely panned idea he proposed four months ago. And it comes at a time when Republicans, who now control the House, are in a position to scuttle those parts of his agenda they oppose, and to push for him to go further on spending cuts.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. chats with House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio on Capitol Hill on Tuesday before the start of President Obama's State of the Union address. (Associated Press)
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. chats with House Speaker John A. ... more >

“A ‘freeze’ is simply inadequate,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, who led his party to giant victories in last year’s elections with promises of deep cuts and limited government.

Just hours before Mr. Obama took the podium in the packed House chamber, lawmakers there passed a resolution promising to cut spending to pre-Obama levels. The nonbinding measure passed 256-165, with 17 Democrats joining 239 Republicans — signaling at least some bipartisan support for the deep cuts Republicans are proposing.

Just over two weeks after a gunman killed six and injured more than a dozen, including Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, at an event the congresswoman was holding in Tucson, Mr. Obama appealed for a new tone in the capital’s political debates, echoing the call he made at a memorial service the week after the shooting.

“There’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passions and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater — something more consequential than party or political preference,” he said.

For their part, members of the House and Senate symbolized their support for more civility by forgoing the traditional partisan seating arrangements and pairing up with colleagues across the aisle. The entire Arizona delegation sat together but left an empty seat in honor of Mrs. Giffords, who was still recovering from her wounds.

Notably, Mr. Obama did not second calls by many of his fellow Democrats for new gun-control measures in the wake of the tragedy, making no mention of the issue in the address.

The president also went out of his way to offer a personal olive branch to Mr. Boehner, congratulating him on becoming speaker and later citing Mr. Boehner’s personal story and rise to prominence as an example of American possibility.

But in a stark challenge to leaders of his own party, the president said he’ll no longer sign bills that include earmarks, the targeted spending projects lawmakers attach to bills to direct money to their districts and states, which many fiscal critics see as pork.

“Both parties in Congress should know this: If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it,” the president vowed, drawing a firm line.

House and Senate Republicans have already adopted short-term moratoriums on earmarks, but Democrats have balked, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying Congress shouldn’t surrender its constitutional right to direct spending.

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