After President Obama left the Capitol, lawmakers gathered in Statuary Hall, chatting with reporters and appearing on cable-news programs under a garden of Klieg lights. I spoke with an array of Republicans, all of whom expressed disappointment with the speech.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.)
“All I can say is, we are looking forward to trying to see if we can transcend differences, set them aside and try and come together on what we can do to grow the economy and to help people get back to work. That’s why I reject the notion that there is somehow an all-or-nothing approach here, that we have got to accept his package, or somehow he will look to hold us accountable. Again, it’s about results here, and there are plenty of things that we can do to produce results, transcending the differences and trying to stick to where can find commonalities.”
Rep. Allen West (R., Fla.)
“Did I really need to have a speech for this? You could have given me the American Jobs Act and allowed me to read it and understand it; give it to the CBO, let them evaluate it. Now he’s put the cart before the horse, telling people we need to pass something that none of us have seen. In fact, we knew nothing about this since the speech didn’t come out until 7 p.m. We didn’t have an opportunity to really read and understand these points and proposals.”
West does, however, see a “glimmer of hope” in the president’s Medicare rhetoric. “I would like to the president do much like Bill Clinton did, pivoting off some bad ideas. . . . Is it enough to carry the day? I’m not sure.”
“This presidency is absolutely in real trouble,” he concludes. “What I heard at the end was a real sense of desperation. He kept talking about 14 months, we need to do this now, but where was that sense of urgency 34 months ago?”
Rep. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.)
“I feel like I’ve just been to the principal’s office. It was equal parts platitudes and scolding. He has given a lot of good speeches in his day but this wasn’t one of them. It was vacuous. You knew what it was, but some of the talk made me scratch my head. Retention of teachers? It was just lines thrown out there for applause from the Left, without any real connection to what we need to do.” Obama, with his sinking poll numbers, Flake says, threw a “Hail Mary,” and missed.
Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa)
“The president said that we can reduce the deficit and pay down the national debt, which isn’t going to happen. That requires a balanced budget. This president didn’t offer a balanced budget. But he said, several times, it will be paid for. But when you listen, well, it’s going to be paid for out of the conclusion that is drawn from the super-committee, which sets up a cage match between our national defense and our entitlements. We don’t know what it costs either. He didn’t put a price tag on it. Whatever it is, he would ask us to come up with those costs and do that within the crunch time of the super-committee. It’s an extremely heavy lift for Congress to come up with something like this. The president has, essentially, done what we say in the Midwest: he’s just tossed a cat into the kennel. Now he’s going to step back and watch the fur fly.”