But Obama said the bill is helping people with preexisting conditions and uninsured students find coverage and is making prescription drugs cheaper for seniors. He offered to roll back some bookkeeping provisions that small businesses complain are onerous, and to consider changes to medical malpractice law.
Even as Obama called for a spending freeze, he also vowed to “invest” in education and research so the United States can keep up with international competitors, such as India and China.
“The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still,” he said, comparing the turning point to the space race kicked off by the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957. Obama called for investments in infrastructure, clean-energy technology (using money cut from tax breaks for oil companies), community colleges and research that could open industries that would create jobs.
First lady Michelle Obama invited 55-year-old Kathy Proctor to sit in her box Tuesday night. Proctor, of Winston-Salem, N.C., worked in the furniture industry for 30 years but now is back in school, hoping to become a bio-fuels analyst. Nearly 2.1 million Americans age 55 and older were unemployed in December, according to labor statistics.
Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida in Tampa, said the president’s call to improve the country’s competitiveness will resonate with older Americans. Older workers are particularly concerned about jobs being outsourced to other countries because it is so difficult for those workers to find new work if they are laid off.
But Obama made it clear that he would make his case to the public for some spending increases.
Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you feel the impact,” Obama said.
But Brian Darling, director of government relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the “investments” are merely a “warmed-over version of a stimulus package.”
“It didn’t work the first time. It’s not going to work this time,” Darling said.
Spurred by calls for bipartisanship in the aftermath of the shooting in Arizona of colleague Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, many lawmakers tried to put aside party rancor for the night. Many crossed the House chamber’s center aisle to sit with members of the opposite party and wore ribbons on their lapels to remember the victims of the Tucson shooting, where a gunman targeted Giffords and bystanders at a constituent meeting.
Obama said it would be more important for lawmakers to work together Wednesday than to sit together Tuesday night, especially with the Senate and the White House in Democratic hands and the House under Republican control.
“New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans,” Obama said. “We will move forward together, or not at all – for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.”
Obama cautioned that politicians are likely to argue about every letter of every law.
“We should have no illusions about the work ahead of us. Reforming our schools, changing the way we use energy, reducing our deficit – none of this will be easy. All of it will take time.”
Tamara Lytle is a freelance reporter who has covered Congress, the White House and politics in Washington for more than 20 years.