Congress leaders see hurdles as Obama seeks unity

By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (BestGrowthStock) – President Barack Obama showered the Congress on Wednesday with calls for bipartisan pushes to create jobs, cut spending and expand healthcare but lawmakers from both parties questioned the agenda.

In his first State of the Union address with two of his major initiatives in trouble — legislation to revamp healthcare and stem global warming — Obama told lawmakers that Americans expected Democrats and Republicans to work together.

Even before he spoke, a top Democrat broke ranks with the president on details of his proposed freeze on some domestic spending.

“Everybody has to make a sacrifice,” House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi told political news website Politico, raising questions whether the Democratic-led Congress would pass the Obama plan.

“We have serious philosophical differences,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said, citing healthcare, energy independence and national defense.

“I’ll do what I can to find common ground on the serious issues … but I also remain prepared to say ‘no’ when I must,” said Graham, who was not alone in his skepticism.

House Republican Whip Eric Cantor scoffed at Obama’s call for creation of a deficit-cutting commission.

“You reduce spending by just stopping,” Cantor said.

House Republican Leader John Boehner rolled his eyes when Obama said his health plan would bring down the budget deficit and raised his hand as if to speak when Obama said he was willing to listen to suggestions for reducing costs.

MAJORITY

Obama spoke one week after Republicans won a special election in Massachusetts, costing Democrats their 60th vote in the Senate needed to clear procedural roadblocks.

The election immediately jeopardized much of Obama’s agenda, gave Republicans new clout and sent a rush of fear through Democrats facing tough races in this November’s congressional election.

Obama called for action and urged fellow Democrats not to despair.

“I would remind you that we still have the largest majority (in Congress) in decades and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills,” Obama said.

Representative Dave Camp, senior Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said: “We’ve heard talk of bipartisanship before and didn’t get it — not on healthcare and not on jobs.”

“Clearly the American people want us to work together,” Camp said.

Analysts summed it up: difficult times ahead.

“The initial outlook is dim and grim,” said Ethan Siegal of the Washington Exchange, a private firm that tracks Congress and the White House for institutional investors.

Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen said: “Everybody stands up and claps when the president says we need a healthcare plan that makes sure people don’t get denied (insurance) based on pre-existing conditions and then they refuse to come forward with a plan that actually does it.”

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(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by John O’Callaghan)

Congress leaders see hurdles as Obama seeks unity