State of the Union address largely panned by Kentucky's congressional delegation

01/21/2015 05:29 PM

Newly empowered Republicans, particularly Kentucky’s pair of GOP senators, lambasted President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday, saying the president said little to convince them of his readiness to find common ground with the Republican-led Congress.

Obama’s penultimate State of the Union address highlighted progress made during his administration, particularly an economy that’s showing continued signs of improvement after a recession that’s lingered in the public conscience since late 2007.

Although the president touched on potential areas of agreement between himself and Congress – fast-track trade agreements and tax reform, for example – Obama signaled that his veto pen will be ready if Congress sends him any legislation attempting to roll back his administration’s initiatives. “The verdict is clear,” Obama told a joint session of Congress. “Middle-class economics works.”

“We can’t slow down businesses or put our economy at risk with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns,” the Democratic president said. “We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got to fix a broken system.

“And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things I will veto it. It will have earned my veto.”

Even though the president and GOP leaders in Congress have agreed on the need for tax reform, the method for such a change has proven a sizable stumbling block. Obama detailed a plan that would raise taxes on high-income investors and big banks in favor of breaks for middle- and low-income earners.

Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, though, said Obama’s tax proposal is more of the same from a president whose policies “have allowed the poor to get poorer and the rich to get richer.” The first-term Republican countered Obama’s State of the Union address through a video posted to his official YouTube account.

Paul suggested that rather than raising taxes on the wealthy and “redistributing the pie,” Obama should lower taxes so the proverbial pie can grow. The senator also proposed cutting federal spending while slashing taxes for all earners.

“Imagine a private stimulus, fed by allowing you to keep more of your own money,” Paul said. “Some will ask, ‘But what of the safety net?’ I say we will not cut one penny from the safety net until we’ve cut every penny from corporate welfare.”

Paul’s rebuttal can be seen here:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also expressed disappointment in much of Obama’s next-to-last State of the Union address.

The Kentucky Republican said the president may not be enamored with the results of last fall’s midterm elections after the GOP wrestled control of the Senate from Democrats, but Obama should be able to find commonality with congressional leaders during the remainder of his presidency. “The State of the Union,” McConnell said, “can be about more than veto threats or strident partisanship.”

“Members in both parties would have welcomed serious ideas about how to save and strengthen Medicare and how to protect Social Security for future generations and how to balance the budget without tired tax hikes,” McConnell said in a Senate floor speech Wednesday. “We listened closely for specific details on how he’d work with both parties to achieve comprehensive tax simplification that focuses not on growing government, but creating jobs. The president has expressed some support for ideas like this previously. He should have expanded on it last night.

“There’s still time for him to do it, but whatever he chooses, the new Congress will continue working to send good ideas to his desk.”

McConnell’s floor speech can be viewed here:

But Obama’s remarks drew more than grumbles from Kentucky’s federal delegation.

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville, the state’s lone congressional Democrat, applauded the president’s speech. Yarmuth said he supports Obama’s proposal to improve accessibility to community colleges and reform the country’s tax code.

“Though our economy continues to grow, we still see so many of the benefits only going to millionaires and billionaires, not our working families,” Yarmuth said in a statement late Tuesday. “A fair tax code that rewards work rather than wealth is necessary, and I welcome the President’s tax proposal.”

He continued, “Whether it’s reforming our flawed immigration system, fixing our unfair tax code, or protecting the guarantee of a secure retirement, there is no shortage of issues that Congress can begin tackling immediately.”

Needling the Senate’s new majority leader

Aside from laying out his vision for the country, Obama tossed a couple of jabs at McConnell in his national address.

Both subjects are familiar to those who followed last fall’s contentious U.S. Senate race between McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state.

In discussing a proposal to improve pay equity for female workers – a key plank in Grimes’ Senate campaign platform — Obama said, “Mitch, it’s 2015. It’s time.”

And harkening back to McConnell’s assertion that he’s not a scientist when faced with questions on climate change, Obama said he too is a novice in the field.

“But you know what? I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA and at NOAA and at our major universities, and the best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate,” the president said.

Stoking the 2016 coals

As Paul considers a run for president next year, it’s safe to assume nearly every move he makes between now and a decision date will be analyzed with a potential 2016 campaign in mind.

Paul offered some glimpses of a presidential run in his counter to Obama’s State of the Union address, discussing heightened racial tensions in some parts of the country and his vision for a leaner military bureaucracy.

The 2016 bells rang loudest, though, when he turned his attention to a heavily favored Democrat who has not declared for the race: former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In fact, he labeled the Libyan civil war “Hillary’s war in Libya” and has said the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi should disqualify her from mounting a presidential campaign.

“Libya’s now a jihadist wonderland,” Paul said. “Jihadists swim in our embassy pool, our ambassador is dead and now we are now more at risk from terrorist attacks than ever before.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.


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