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CINCINNATI - Although he might have clapped politely as he sat behind President Obama during Tuesday night's State of the Union address, House Speaker John Boehner wasn't impressed with the agenda outlined by the chief executive.
Shortly after the speech, Boehner (R-West Chester) said Obama should focus more on spending cuts and less on promoting government solutions to America's economic problems.
"Four years after the president first addressed a joint session of Congress, Americans are still asking, ‘where are the jobs?' " Boehner said.
"(Obama) offered them little more than more of the same ‘stimulus' policies that have failed to fix our economy and put Americans back to work," the speaker added. "We cannot grow the middle class and foster job creation by growing government and raising taxes."
As part of Obama's economic plan to grow middle class jobs, he proposed a "Fix It First" program.
The program involves spending $50 billion on infrastructure improvements, including $40 billion targeted to the most urgent upgrades like the 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the nation.
Also, Obama proposed creating a "Master Teacher Corps" of educators in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It would enlist 10,000 of America's science and math teachers to improve STEM education across the nation's schools.
Further, Obama wants to increase the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour by 2015, which would raise the pay for an estimated 15 million workers.
The president wants to index the minimum wage to inflation so it will automatically increase in the future. His opponent in last year's election, Republican Mitt Romney, also supported this concept.
Instead of proposing new programs, Obama should focus on a solution to the sequester, a series of steep across-the-board cuts in all federal spending, Boehner said. The cuts will occur March 1 unless Congress and the president can agree on another plan.
"We are only weeks away from the devastating consequences of the president's sequester, and he failed to offer the cuts needed to replace it," Boehner said.
"In the last election, voters chose divided government which offers a mandate only to work together to find common ground," he added. "The president, instead, appears to have chosen a go-it-alone approach to pursue his liberal agenda."
But U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) was more upbeat.
"Tonight's speech provided an important blueprint to grow our economy by growing the middle class," Brown said after the State of the Union.
Brown was glad Obama supports a plan to create regional public-private partnerships for manufacturers to improve innovation and create new jobs, known as the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation.
Brown's legislation would establish public-private Institutes that leverage investments to bridge the gap between basic research and product development, provide shared assets to help companies—particularly small and medium-size manufacturing enterprises—access cutting-edge equipment, and help train students and workers in advanced manufacturing skills.
One such institute exists in Youngstown. In his speech, Obama announced the launch of three manufacturing hubs and asked Congress to help create a network of 15 more.
"This sort of investment in the middle class is how we can continue to create jobs and get our economy back on track," Brown said.
Ohio's other senator, Republican Rob Portman, was less enthused.
"Rather than laying out a pro-growth plan to spur our economy, he promoted the same big-government policies that have failed to get our economy up and running again," Portman said. "Instead of addressing the need to reduce Washington's massive deficits by reforming important yet unsustainable entitlements, he proposed more taxes on job creators."
Portman chided Obama for not fostering more bipartisanship.
"The election is over, there are no more excuses, and it's time for him to get to work on actually governing," Portman said. "To do that, he needs to step forward, reach across the aisle, and work with Republicans to find common ground on policies that will reform our antiquated tax code and give our economy a shot in the arm."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Obama has been too combative since winning reelection.
"I happen to be one of those who thinks divided government is the ideal time to solve our nation's problems," McConnell said. "For whatever reason, the president doesn't agree with that. He seems to want everybody to think that Republicans are all up here with their daggers drawn all the time. It's absolute nonsense."
McConnell added, "We've got serious problems to deal with, especially spending and debt. Every single one of my Republican colleagues wants to do something to address those problems."
Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) repeated the chorus of GOP criticism.
"While I am pleased (Obama) finally turned his focus back to the ongoing jobs crisis in our country, I was left feeling very disappointed and frustrated that
the president continued to call for higher taxes to pay for more and more government spending," Coats said.
"I don't believe the president acknowledges the seriousness of our debt and fiscal crisis. We are nearly $16.5 trillion in debt and $6 trillion of that debt is from the president's spending over the last four years," Coats added.
"Under his administration, the national debt grew, not shrank, by $6 trillion -- the largest increase of any presidency and he has four more years to go."
Although the GOP lawmakers derided Obama's economic plans, they generally steered clear from commenting on his call for universal background checks on people buying firearms, and reviving the assault weapons ban. Both items have been popular in many polls, but are opposed by large segments of the Republican Party's base.
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