- Washington 01/21/2015 (AP)
President Barack Obama's State of the Union address drew unsparing morning-after reviews Wednesday from majority Republicans in Congress, including a rebuke on nuclear talks with Iran and a lament from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell that a high-profile speech can be about "more than veto threats of strident partisanship."
McConnell, R-Ky., said the Democratic president "may not be wild about the people's choice of a Congress. But he owes it to the American people to find a serious way to work with the representatives they elected."
Obama's first State of the Union address with Congress under Republican control was studded with veto threats. He defiantly unfurled an agenda on taxes, spending, social programs, energy and foreign policy notably at odds with Republican priorities. He did end with a plea for the two parties to "debate without demonizing one another" and find compromise where possible.
The quick challenge on Iran came courtesy of House Speaker John Boehner, who announced he had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress on Feb. 11.
Assuming the Israeli leader accepts, he would stand at the same podium in the House of Representatives where the president spoke Tuesday night — with a notably different message.
Netanyahu has been an outspoken opponent of the direction of negotiations with Tehran that the Obamaadministration is involved in. Administration officials say the hope is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
The Israeli leader says he fears the United States and other countries will give away too much in the talks, and the existence of his country will be at risk.
The U.S. and other Western countries believe that Iran is intent on trying to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran claims its nuclear program is peaceful and exists only to produce energy for civilian use.
The invitation to Netanyahu wasn't the only Republican rebuttal on the horizon at the dawn of a new Congress under GOP control.
The Senate is debating legislation to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline despite a veto threat, and the House has votes scheduled this week on two other bills the president has signaled he will reject. One would ban abortions for women more than 20 weeks pregnant; the other would give the government one year to act on construction requests for natural gas pipelines.
Republicans unleashed their counterattack as Obama headed to promote his proposals in Idaho and Kansas, two of the most Republican states.
The speech itself was memorable for a split-screen sort of response, in which Democrats on one side of the House chamber repeatedly rose to their feet and applauded the president, while Republicans who intend to vote down his proposals sat silently. When Obama promised to send Congress a budget "filled with ideas that are practical, not partisan," a disbelieving snicker swept through the rows of Republicans.
"We're not going to raise taxes. He knows we're not going to raise taxes. So I'm kind of surprised he paid lip service to that," Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said afterward.
The centerpiece of Obama's economic proposals was an increase in the capital gains rate on couples making more than $500,000 annually, to 28 percent, coupled with higher taxes on some estates and a fee on the roughly 100 U.S. financial firms with assets of more than $50 billion.
Much of the $320 billion that would be raised would be ticketed for the middle class, in the form of a $500 tax credit for some families with two working spouses, expansion of the child care tax credit and a $60 billion program to make community college free.
For that, Obama drew condemnation from the most junior Senate Republicans, and from the most senior.
"Calling for expanding the death tax and raising the rates on capital gains, like the president did tonight, makes clear this White House is more about redistribution and populist class warfare than about actual bipartisan tax reform," said GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, he will have an influential role in negotiations on any tax overhaul legislation in the next two years.
Sen. Tom Cotton, who defeated a Democratic incumbent last fall to win his seat in Arkansas, said, "The policies and ideas he put forth are from the same tax and spend playbook he's been using for the last six years."
Among other issues, Obama also urged Congress to act against climate change.
"I've heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they're not scientists. ... Well, I'm not a scientist, either," he said, before adding that "the best scientists in the world are telling us that our activities are changing the climate."
He didn't say so, but McConnell was among many Republicans in last fall's campaign who sidestepped questions about climate change by saying they were not scientists.