- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) - The new Republican Congress understands Americans’ suffering from the economy, health care system and Washington gridlock and will steer the country away from President Barack Obama’s failed policies, a newly minted GOP senator is promising.

Making calls for bipartisanship with a flexing of GOP muscle, freshman Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, called on Obama Tuesday night to cooperate with Republicans to simplify the tax code by lowering rates and eliminating unspecified loopholes. In the party’s official response to Obama’s State of the Union message, Ernst also called for an easing of trade barriers with Europe and Asia. And she listed a parade of looming clashes with the president, including GOP efforts to force construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, balance the budget without raising taxes and restrict abortions.

“Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare,” Ernst said, referring to the Obama health care overhaul that Republicans loathe. “It’s a mindset that gave us political talking points, not serious solutions.”

Ernst’s speech marked her party’s first State of the Union response under Obama in which the GOP has held House and Senate majorities. It came as Republicans hope to expand their appeal among women and minorities ahead of the 2016 presidential and congressional elections.

The speech made no mention of immigration, an issue dividing Congress as Republicans work to overturn Obama’s executive actions extending deportation protections to millions. But in a Spanish-language version, new Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida pledged that the GOP will work toward a permanent overhaul of the immigration system, and he also promised work on education reforms, another issue omitted from the English-language version.

Ernst, 44, sprinkled her policy prescriptions with a personal touch, recounting her youth on her family’s farm in Red Oak, Iowa. She described plowing fields, working mornings at a Hardees restaurant and wearing plastic bread bags over her only pair of good shoes on rainy school days.

Ernst, a fresh face on the national political scene, has been in the Senate for all of two weeks. Her November election victory helped give Republicans control of the Senate for the first time in eight years.

The conservative Ernst rocketed to prominence in Republican circles last year, when the little-known state senator and Iraq war veteran won the GOP primary and captured a Senate seat that retiring Democrat Tom Harkin had held for three decades.

Ernst gained attention for a campaign ad in which she spoke of her farm experience castrating pigs and vowed to use that attitude against Washington’s big spenders, saying, “Let’s make them squeal.” She has advocated the abolition of the IRS and Environmental Protection Agency, backed a state law supporting personhood for fetuses and spoken of using her gun to defend herself against any government attempts to restrict her rights.

On Tuesday, Ernst cited the GOP’s dispute with Obama over forcing construction of the proposed Keystone pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast. With some Democratic support, Republicans call the project a job creator while the White House has threatened a veto over potential environmental damage.

“President Obama will soon have a decision to make: Will he sign the bill or block good American jobs?” she said.

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