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Days After SOTU Are Full of Lobbyist Feedback

The National Retail Federation spent weeks urging the White House to include in the president’s State of the Union address a plug for retail jobs along with domestic manufacturing ones.

Apparently, the president didn’t buy it.

“A lot of his speech was focused on the notion of bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States,” said the retail group’s top lobbyist, David French. “Well, retailers haven’t left.”

Lobbyists obviously don’t get to write the State of the Union. But the White House did solicit advice from its liberal-leaning outside allies and heard plenty from industry groups such as the NRF. Though some groups were pleased to hear President Barack Obama give their priorities a boost and quickly dispatched press releases cheering him, others are now downplaying the address’s significance at all.

“It’s just one speech,” French said. “It’s a theme-setter and really not much more.”

While Obama may not have had much to say on the retail-jobs theme, he did include many mentions of education policy — not all of them welcomed by school lobbyists.

“So let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down,” Obama said in his Tuesday night address. “Higher education can’t be a luxury — it’s an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”

The Association of American Universities’ Barry Toiv said his organization’s members are working on tuition costs but that it is particularly difficult for public universities whose states are in financial peril and are cutting funding.

“We’re certainly curious as to what [the president] is going to propose on Friday,” Toiv said. “There have been proposals in past years that would have harmed students by taking away their aid.”

On the other hand, Toiv said that the AAU’s members were happy Obama included a pitch for continued investment in scientific research.

National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel praised the president in a statement, which said, “President Obama’s bold vision offers both hope and help to Americans.”

And Wendy Puriefoy, president of the Public Education Network, said the president’s focus on education was very much needed.

“The president was on target in making clear the connection between a quality public education and a sound economy, and in underscoring the importance of staying in school, especially for poor kids,” Puriefoy said in a statement to Roll Call. “The president’s proposals are very much in line with our own priorities.”

The banking industry and the president, however, are less likely to agree on priorities. Obama had some sharp words for that sector.

For example, Obama said he is sending Congress a plan to help homeowners refinance their mortgages with the current historically low interest rates and no more “runaround from the banks. A small fee on the largest financial institutions will ensure that it won’t add to the deficit, and will give banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust.”

Banking lobbyists didn’t exactly cheer that statement.

“It just reiterated what we’ve known for a while: The president does not like banks,” said Richard Hunt, president of the Consumer Bankers Association, which represents regional and large banks. “We got the memo on that.”

Even some of those progressive groups the White House reached out to didn’t come away from the speech completely satisfied.

Lisa Gilbert, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, said some of her biggest concerns came over Obama’s rhetoric around regulations. It’s a politically loaded area, with the business community blasting the administration for overregulating business and hurting jobs.

Obama called for Congress to “tear down regulations that prevent aspiring entrepreneurs from getting the financing to grow.” And he added, “There is no question that some regulations are outdated, unnecessary or too costly. In fact, I’ve approved fewer regulations in the first three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his. I’ve ordered every federal agency to eliminate rules that don’t make sense.”

Gilbert didn’t like what she heard. “We certainly need to be smart about what regulations are put in place, but they are critical public protections.”

Even though Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, did not hear Obama make a commitment to women’s reproductive freedom, she said he gave her enough particularly by endorsing the idea of equal pay for women — a NOW priority.

“I listened to the entire State of the Union speech and listened to Mitch Daniels after that,” she said, referring to the Indiana governor who delivered the Republican rebuttal. “And after that entire experience, I was over the moon with Obama.”

When it comes to the president’s jobs agenda, O’Neill, like the Retail Federation’s French, said the president should have placed less emphasis on manufacturing jobs — traditionally men’s jobs — and more on retail, nursing, teaching and other jobs dominated by women.

“On net, women have lost almost 300,000 jobs since the summer of 2009,” she said. “I’m all for manufacturing jobs, but there is an enormous amount of need for jobs for nurses and social workers, teachers, retail workers, hotel maids and day care providers.”

But don’t expect lobbyists in the manufacturing sector to come away from the speech without their gripes, too.

Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, issued a post-State of the Union statement attacking the administration’s decision last week to reject the Keystone XL pipeline despite “the promise of nearly 20,000 manufacturing and construction jobs along with the 118,000 indirect jobs that would ripple across our economy.”

Timmons said the pipeline could have accomplished many of the goals espoused in the State of the Union address and, “Its rejection undermines the president’s commitment to them.”

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