Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he hoped President Obama would use the State of the Union to highlight areas of agreement with the GOP-controlled Congress — but that’s not the tone he expects the president to strike.
“Any president in this situation has a choice. He can sort of act like he’s still running for office or he can focus on the things that we have a chance to reach an agreement on,” said Mr. McConnell. “Obviously, that’s what I hope we’ll hear tonight, is a speech that brings us together and doesn’t push us apart.”
But the Kentucky Republican said the previews of the speech indicate that Mr. Obama hasn’t broken from his fighting stance.
He faulted Mr. Obama for pushing tax-and-spend plans that are non-starters with Republicans instead of pursuing areas of possible agreement, such as trade policy and comprehensive tax reform, which could find support on both sides of the aisle.
In the run-up to the speech, Mr. Obama proposed a plan for a $320 billion tax increase over 10 years on the wealthiest Americans.
“It all looks like the same old tax-and-spend that the president’s been advocating for the last six years. Hopefully, that’s just rhetoric,” Mr. McConnell said. “He knows we’re not likely to pass these kinds of measures, and we’ll still look for things that we can actually agree on to try to make some progress here.”
He called Mr. Obama’s tax plan, which would raise taxes on the wealthy and slap a new fee on banks to pay for tax cuts and other benefits for the middle class, a “warmed-over proposal.”
“Comprehensive tax reform is an area we might actually be able to make some progress on, but another income redistribution effort, another tax increase obviously is not what we had in mind,” he said.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a newly elected Republican from West Virginia, said that it wasn’t just her party looking for Mr. Obama to find a way to work with Congress.
She illustrated her point with a story about her chatting with a constituent during the flight to Washington. When they talked about the upcoming State of the Union address and Mr. Obama’s tax plan, she said, the man just rolled his eyes and said, “More gridlock?”
“That’s what we are saying and I am saying here, ‘No more gridlock,” Mrs. Capitol said at a press conference with Mr. McConnell and other GOP senators at the Capitol.
“We want to work in a bipartisan way. We’re already doing that,” she said, noting that the Senate was currently debating a bill with bipartisan support that would approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Mr. Obama, who has delayed the project for six years to appease environmentalists who oppose it, has threatened to veto the bill.
She said that another area of common ground would be a transportation bill.
“I think a way to get West Virginia’s back to work and Americans back to work is a good transportation bill. That’s always been a bipartisan effort on both sides of the aisle on both sides of the Capitol,” Mrs. Capito said.
Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, stressed that the White House and Congress should work together to pass legislation giving the president power to fast-track approval of trade deals, which would require Mr. Obama muscling support from Democrats.
Mr. Obama wants to have the power to fast-track trade agreements, known as trade promotion authority. It would boost the completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation deal with Pacific Rim countries that is centerpiece of the president’s Asia policy.
The president, however, faces fierce opposition from his base, with a coalition of liberal lawmakers, labor unions, teacher unions and environmentalists lined up against trade deals and giving Mr. Obama trade promotion authority.
“Let’s hope the president talks about that tonight, and does more than just talk about it, but this time actually goes to his caucus, goes to the Democrats, talks about the importance of this,” Mr. Portman said.
“It’s a great example of what we could do together to help keep the American economy moving forward and ensuring that people aren’t left behind,” he said.