Philly leaders mixed on State of the Union address


President Obama made no bones about it Tuesday night – he wanted to go out with a bang.

He wanted to remind Americans of the greatness that is the United States and the bedrock on which it stands.

As he entered the House chamber through a narrow corridor, he kissed faces, shook hands, smiled broadly, and CNN’s mic picked up him saying, “I’ll talk to Sam about that,” as he greeted members of Congress to deliver his final State of the Union address as President.

In an election year, the President took great strides to build on the change and hope he promised seven years ago, and bolster the strength of fellow Democrats running for his seat.

“The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. Period. It’s not even close. It’s not even close,” he reiterated.

“We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined. Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world. No nation attacks us directly or our allies because they know it’s the path to ruin. Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office and when it comes to very important international issues, people in the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead – they call us.”

Pennsylvania’s Sen. Bob Casey called the president’s speech “forward-looking” and “optimistic, agreeing with Obama that Congress should move to help reduce the debt burden on college graduates. Obama proposed Tuesday night cutting the cost of college to zero for every student for the first two years, but didn’t say how he would pay for it.

“A college degree is one of the single best tickets to the middle class – it shouldn’t come with a lifetime of debt,” Casey said in a statement. He went on to say,

“Our nation has traveled a substantial distance from the depths and darkness of January 2009. While the progress is to be commended, the work of growing middle class incomes, investing in early learning, reducing student debt and achieving security at home and abroad confront us. These are endeavors worthy of a great nation. If Congress approaches these challenges with a spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation, then 2016 can be a truly productive year for the American people.”

Sen. Pat Toomey had another viewpoint, pointing out two “great threats” facing the U.S., in the form of slow economic growth and of violent Islamic extremist terrorists.

“It is more dangerous than ever,” he said.

“I am disappointed the President failed to provide a serious, meaningful plan for each of these challenges. After seven years, it’s clear we need a new agenda that will boost the economy, create more jobs and lift paychecks for all Pennsylvanians…I was sorry to see no real plan to fight the threat we face from violent Islamist extremism. The President missed an opportunity to lay out a case for strong American leadership in the Middle East – especially tougher action to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”

He did tip his hat to Obama and Congress when it came to achievements made in the last year, including reforming education, promoting trade, investing in highways and bridges, boosting cyber-security and fixing how Medicare reimburses doctors.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, herself the daughter of Indian immigrants, gave the Republican response immediately following the President’s address. She offered measured feedback, faulting lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for not working hard enough together to get jobs done each have strived for in nearly eight years’ time.

“There is more than enough blame to go around,” she said.

“We as Republicans need to own that truth. We need to accept that we’ve played a role in how and why our government is broken, and then, we need to fix it.”

As for reaction from Mayor Jim Kenney, spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said he would be meeting with U.S Secretary of Labor Tom Perez Wednesday afternoon in Port Richmond at the PTR Baler & Compactor company to discuss some of the themes highlighted in the State of the Union address Tuesday night. Hitt said the event would piggyback on Obama’s objectives of unity and community partnerships, as PTR Baler & Compactor has worked with the School District of Philadelphia, the Community College of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Works Inc. in getting people employed through federally funded employment and training programs that Kenney says have helped connect job seekers with employers and boost the nation’s economy.

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