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House Republicans Offer Measured Criticism of State of the Union

Speaker John Boehner dismissed President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday, saying the president’s call for a spending freeze was inadequate and accusing him of lacking commitment to fiscal responsibility.

“As I’ve stated in the past, when the president is willing to work with us on the people’s priorities, we’ll be ready to work with him,” the Ohio Republican said in a statement. “Unfortunately, even as he talked about the need for fiscal discipline, President Obama called for more ‘stimulus’ spending without making a commitment to the cuts and reforms the American people are demanding. Adding to our debt and pushing us closer to bankruptcy for the sake of more ‘stimulus’ spending will not make our nation more competitive.”

Boehner dismissed Obama’s proposed spending freeze as insufficient. “A partial freeze is inadequate at a time when we’re borrowing 42 cents of every dollar we spend, and the Administration is begging for another increase in the debt limit,” he said.

Boehner’s pointed criticisms, which lacked the bombast and overheated partisan rhetoric of past State of the Union responses, set the tone for other Republicans.

Chief Deputy Majority Whip Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) said in a statement: “I fear that President Obama is not listening to Americans’ clear warnings, because ‘invest’ and ‘freeze’ actually means ‘more government spending’ and ‘locking in a Pelosi-level budget.’ We saw those job-destroying policies in action over the last two years, and in turn, the American people voted for a drastically different direction this past November.”

Likewise, Rep. Kristi Noem, a tea party favorite and a member of the House GOP leadership, criticized Obama without engaging in over-the-top rhetoric.

“Despite the failed stimulus package that is simply adding to our debt rather than creating jobs, the President repeatedly fell back tonight on more government spending as his only economic solution,” the South Dakota Republican said in a statement. “Whether you call it a stimulus or an investment, more government spending simply isn’t the answer.”

Following the speech, Noem told Roll Call that she was nevertheless happy that she and Obama can agree on some areas, at least rhetorically.

“There were obviously some things in there I could find agreement on — simplifying the tax cut, making sure that we’re focusing on jobs and getting our spending under control,” she said. “It will be interesting to see how he balances that with his determination to continue to reinvest. That will be interesting because I really think we need to truly stop spending dollars.”

Even Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio) was relatively measured in his criticisms.

“After two years of reckless spending and putting record levels of debt on the backs of our children and grandchildren, I am glad to see President Obama finally say what the Republican Study Committee has been saying all along, that ‘the only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it,’” Jordan said in a statement.

“I urge the President to put his call for spending cuts into action by pledging to sign our Spending Reduction Act, a $2.5 trillion spending cut package that will begin to restore fiscal responsibility to Washington,” he added.

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) issued perhaps the most bipartisan statement of the evening, opting to focus on the economic challenges facing the nation rather than attacking Obama.

“I believe the President is sincere in his desire to strengthen our economy, and that is why I am looking forward to him joining Republicans in our efforts to end the Democrats’ job-destroying spending spree,” McCarthy said.

Rep. Jeff Flake, the House’s chief anti-earmark crusader, applauded Obama’s pledge to veto bills with earmarks. “I was surprised that he actually said he would veto,” the Arizona Republican said. “That’s a hard commitment to make. That’s what he’s got to do. I hope he does it.”

But Flake was disappointed with what Obama said on spending overall. “The rest of it was not so good,” he said.

House Democrats, meanwhile, largely hailed Obama’s speech, praising his emphasis on research and development and economic recovery.

“The President outlined a Sputnik-type commitment to the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people, through which we can lead the world in innovation, secure energy independence and create clean energy jobs, and strengthen small businesses. That plan can build a broad-based prosperity that will ensure economic security for our children,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

“Democrats are ready to win that future by creating jobs, strengthening the middle class, and reducing the deficit and we will work with civility, with everyone who is committed to maintaining America’s leadership,” the California Democrat added.

Similarly, Assistant Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) praised Obama.

“Facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, President Obama came to office and launched a major recovery effort. Two years later as he reported tonight, the stock market is back, corporate profits are up and the economy is growing again. Now it’s time to build on that progress by working together to spur job creation,” he said.

“I hope my Republican colleagues will join us in this effort. There are many areas on which we share common ground, the question is whether we will meet there to make a difference,” Clyburn added.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said that Obama left him reassured that the president would not stand for cuts to Social Security but that he was concerned that Medicare and Medicaid were still potentially on the chopping block.

“I still think there’s a lot of unknowns in this speech,” the Arizona Democrat said. “It was a good speech, but the unknowns are many as to where the cuts are going to be in domestic spending, how deep are they going to be. And the freeze over the next five years on domestic spending is gong to have an effect.”

Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) took a jab at his Republican colleagues. “When Republicans put forward ideas that help create jobs, reduce the deficit, and strengthen the middle class, they will find willing partners — but when they try to turn back the clock and put special interests back in charge, they will find a vocal opposition,” he said.

But at least one Democrat had criticism for Obama. Rep. Jim Moran (Va.) said he liked the speech but questioned Obama’s pledge to cut spending, yet spend more on key areas.

“There are some inconsistencies,” he said. “You can’t freeze domestic discretionary spending for five years and still have the money you need for research and development, particularly in health research at [the National Institutes of Health]. Education reform, transportation infrastructure — all of those things are within discretionary spending, so if you’re going to freeze it, you’re not going to accomplish those objectives. And it’s only one part of the budget. I don’t think you ought to freeze it, I think you ought to spend it.”

Kathleen Hunter and Jessica Estepa contributed to this report.

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