Alabama's GOP lawmakers want fewer government-focused solutions from Obama
Alabama’s Republican members of Congress are bracing for a State of the Union speech on Tuesday that further alienates conservatives by calling for a larger government role to combat poverty, according to members of the state’s congressional delegation.
President Barack Obama will address a joint session of Congress at 8 p.m. The annual event seems less likely this year to produce avenues for bipartisan compromise, the Republicans said.
Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, is expecting partisan rhetoric about the growing gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. and the persistent crisis of poverty.
“What I hope to hear from the president — but all indications are it won’t be this — but I’m hopeful I’ll hear him laying out opportunities for job growth based on the employee and what’s good for the American worker and taxpayer by reducing the size of government rather than expanding government programs,” Roby said Monday.
She said Obama’s expected call to increase the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour would invite unintended consequences. Democrats tend to favor an increase to better keep up with inflation. Republicans say an increase would hurt hiring.
“What good does it do a mom who missed out on a job because a company’s payroll was too high?” Roby said.
Another piece of Obama’s anti-poverty theme is expected to be education and increasing access to — and the quality of — pre-school programs for 4-year-olds. Roby said such proposals amount to federal intrusion into local decisions on schools.
“It’s not the responsibility of the president of the United States at the State of the Union to stand up and tell states how to educate our children,” Roby said Monday.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said Obama’s call to give legal status to some of the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally would exacerbate the problems of the middle class by increasing the competition for jobs. Sessions opposed a Senate-passed plan to overhaul immigration laws and provide some of the 11 million a path to citizenship.
“What we have seen from the president — a plan to increase the minimum wage and extend unemployment compensation for people who are long-term unemployed — are plans that treat symptoms of the disease rather than the problem,” Sessions said Monday in an interview.
White House officials say the president will lay out plans for creating an economy that provides opportunity and rewards hard work.
“After all, it is a theme the president put front and center since he first ran for president in 2007, when he talked about his view that too many middle-class families are working harder and harder yet falling farther and farther behind,” said Josh Earnest, deputy press secretary at the White House. “He’ll talk about expanding economic opportunities for the middle class so every American — all Americans — have a good shot.”
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, said Obama’s focus on income inequality is a distraction from concerns in his district about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
“It makes me think his eye is not on the ball,” Rogers said.
He said employers and workers are worried about how the law will affect their employer-provided health insurance plans.
“Rather than the president trying to stir another pot for an election year, he needs to focus on the circumstances right now,” Rogers said.
The lone Democrat in Alabama’s congressional delegation, Rep. Terri Sewell of Birmingham, said increasing the minimum wage should be included in any agenda to improve the economy.
“No one wants anything to be given to them,” Sewell said. “They’re not looking for hand-outs, they’re looking for hand-ups.”
Sewell said she’ll be listening to the president’s speech for details on equipping American workers with valuable skills, making college loans more affordable and improving pay for women.
“I want to hear words of empowerment for those who hope to join the middle class,” she said. “I look forward to hearing practical solutions to long-term problems that have plagued my district and the nation.”
On the foreign policy front, Roby, who has large military installations in her district, worries Obama will reveal too much about the strategy for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. In last year’s address, Obama said that another 34,000 troops would come home and that the war would end by the end of 2014.
“I think the worst thing we can do is open our playbook and tell our enemies how long they have to wait,” Roby said.
Sessions, a former federal prosecutor, said he would like Obama to retreat from recent comments downplaying the dangers of smoking marijuana. Obama told the New Yorker the drug is not any more dangerous than alcohol, but he told his daughters to avoid it because it is an unhealthy habit.
“I think it’s one of the greatest errors he’s made in the entire time of his presidency,” Sessions said. “For 10 years I worked intensely with community groups in Alabama and particularly in Mobile where we successfully saw a reduction in the use of drugs by young people and adults as a result of a clear message that drug use is unacceptable.”
To read this article on the publication's website, click here.