- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 23, 2011

Republican leaders said Sunday they are optimistic about President Obama’s apparent new focus on creating jobs and his “pivot” toward a more centrist approach to governing, but warned that he still must turn his words into actions.

“The president needs to pivot,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “He obviously saw what happened in the November election and is trying to go a different direction. He’s quit bashing business and is now celebrating business. … Let’s see if he’s really willing to do it.”

Mr. Obama has recently made a major effort to convince Americans that he trying to find ways — beyond spending billions of dollars in stimulus money — to improve the struggling U.S. economy, by creating jobs to replace the millions lost since late 2007.

In the past week, Mr. Obama hosted Chinese President Hu Jintao and agreed to trade deals that would open overseas markets to U.S. manufactured goods, picked General Electric Co. chief Jeff Immelt to lead a presidential advisory panel on jobs and competitiveness, and told supporters that creating jobs will be the focus of his State of the Union speech.

“My No. 1 focus, is going to be making sure that we are competitive, that we are growing and we are creating jobs. … That’s what is going to be the main topic of the State of the Union,” Mr. Obama said in a video message to members of Organizing for America.

The president’s poll numbers have increased in the past weeks, which has been attributed in part to the slight improvement in employment and such tacks from the left as appointing William M. Daley, a business-friendly former commerce secretary, as chief of staff.

Mr. McConnell said on “Fox News Sunday” that Americans will learn during Mr. Obama’s speech Tuesday just “how much of this” the president really means, which puts people in a Reaganesque “trust but verify moment.”

Still, he said, Republicans want to work with the president on efforts to make the U.S. more competitive, particularly by lowering the corporate tax rate and making additional trade deals, including ratifications of agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia.

“These are the kinds of things that will create private-sector jobs in America,” Mr. McConnell said.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor also said he was eager to work with Mr. Obama — especially after the president’s apparent change in tone. But he and Mr. McConnell expressed concern that Mr. Obama on Tuesday will call for spending increases in areas such as education and renewable energy.

“I’m really interested to see and hear what the president has to say,” Mr. Cantor, Virginia Republican, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The question will be, over the next two years, is whether he will demonstrate that he no longer wants to adhere to more spending. … Our Congress is going to be cut and grow.”

He and Mr. McConnell warned that any talk by Mr. Obama about “investing” in educating workers and technology is really a call for additional spending.

“Any time they want to spend, they call it investment,” Mr. McConnell said.

The two also said the Republicans will look at every aspect of the government when they consider spending cuts.

“I don’t think anything ought to be off limits for the effort to reduce spending,” Mr. McConnell said. “I’ve said to my constituents over the last couple of weeks, as they brought up particular areas of interest, don’t assume that we can tackle this without impacting something you like.”

Said Mr. Cantor: “Everything is on the table.”

However, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin warned Republicans on Sunday against hitting the “deficit brakes” for several years.

“Don’t start the serious spending cuts, the deficit reduction, until we’re clearly out of the recession in 2013,” Mr. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said on the Fox News show. “We learned in history … that after the Great Depression, when they started hitting the deficit brakes too soon, they went into a double-dip recession and higher unemployment.”

He said that lawmakers eager to improve the economy should instead “dust off” the final report from Mr. Obama’s bipartisan debt commission, which calls for cutting spending, raising taxes and moving the U.S. tax code toward a simpler structure with fewer deductions.

Mr. Durbin, a debt commission member, said the code allows for roughly $1 trillion in deductions each year.

Other Republicans joined in the anti-spending chorus on Sunday’s political talk shows. Sen. John McCain ripped further federal spending on research and development for corn-based, renewable fuel.

“Ethanol is a joke,” the Arizona Republican said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” He also called the U.S. Postal Service, which has been targeted for cuts, a “model of inefficiency.”

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