Two weeks before automatic spending cuts will take effect if Congress doesn’t reach a deficit-reduction agreement, a local Republican lawmaker thought President Barack Obama should have emphasized the situation more in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
“I was encouraged that he led off his talk addressing the budget,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook. But he wished Obama had directed Congress to work on the budget and use the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission as a starting place to make cuts.
“That would have been the leadership we needed at this critical moment,” Gibson said by phone Wednesday. The sequester “was never meant to be implemented,” but rather was intended to force the two parties to come together and balance a budget.
Dealing with self-imposed crises like the fiscal cliff last year and the sequester this year diverts Congress from getting other work done, Gibson said.
“It sucks the oxygen out of the Capitol so we don’t address other matters that are pressing.”
Obama said as much himself in his address, referring to government “drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next.”
In their reactions to the State of the Union address, local congressmen predictably divided along party lines in how they viewed the president’s speech. While Gibson saw a few holes, the region’s two Democratic congressmen saw a well-crafted address with positive reverberations for their districts.
“I thought his speech and his tone, the substance and the delivery, were uplifting,” said U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam. “I thought that the close just crescendoed beautifully.”
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said Obama’s reference to establishing manufacturing hubs and having companies bring their outsourced plants back to the U.S. could be a good fit for Saratoga County.
“In Saratoga County, you have a good leg up in that process with GlobalFoundries,” Owens said.
He also praised the president’s proposed Fix it First program, which would replace aging bridges and infrastructure, creating jobs.
Tonko was pleased that Obama expressed a desire to expand the middle class.
“His pronouncement that a thriving middle class is an engine for economic growth is spot-on,” Tonko said.
Increasing money for preschool education is a great idea, too, he said. Obama said boosting pre-kindergarten education would put students, especially poor ones, on a better path.
“The soundest investments come at that front end of life,” Tonko said.
For the second time during a State of the Union address, Tonko had a prime seat in the back row of the House of Representatives and had the chance to be among the first to greet Obama as he entered the chamber.
The first time, two years ago, someone offered Tonko the seat unexpectedly. This time, he stopped by early Tuesday evening, but a security crew was set to “sweep” it, so he had to wait.
“They swept it for 45 minutes,” and then Tonko went inside.
No one seemed to be claiming the seats in the back row, so he did so.
“The back is the first to really greet [the president], which is a fun experience.”