Friday 15 December 2017

Obama aims to 'win future' while looking out for No 1

US President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo: Reuters
US President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo: Reuters

David Usborne in Washington

EVEN as he looked to last night's State of the Union address to re-energise his presidency, Barack Obama was taking harsh punches from conservative Republicans demanding radical cuts in federal spending and from liberals in his own party who believe he has abandoned them.

Buoyed by rising approval ratings and an economy that is slowly mending, Mr Obama was to offer a vision of "winning the future" last night. It is a motif that speaks equally to the need to generate jobs and put the recovery on a sounder footing, and to his No 1 priority -- being re-elected next year.

The Republican leadership attempted to take the spotlight off the president, making public plans to slash domestic spending in the US by roughly 22pc. The cuts will be at the heart of budget proposals that will be tabled in Congress in the middle of next month.

The clashing rhetoric before and after the president's speech stood in contrast to the calls for political civility and bipartisanship that have sprung from the shock of the attempted assassination of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the deaths of six others in the same shooting.

Relatives of the victims and heroes of the shooting were invited to the public gallery last night to hear Mr Obama.

In a break with tradition, the Obama address was to be followed last night not by one Republican response, but two.

The official riposte was to be delivered by the new budget committee chairman, Representative Paul Ryan, while Michele Bachmann, the conservative congresswoman and Tea Party standard bearer, was to deliver an alternative reply.

Mr Obama had to tread a narrow line between offering new spending initiatives -- aides said he would single out clean energy projects, railway infrastructure and education -- while offering some spending cuts to show he is serious about tackling the deficit.

The Republican goal of returning spending to 2008 levels with a one-year saving of about $60bn (€44bn) is a personal rebuke to Mr Obama -- that was the last year he was not in office.

"This is how serious we are on delivering on our commitment to cut spending," Eric Cantor, the second-highest Republican in the House of Representatives, said.

Those on the left starting to publicly air their frustrations with Mr Obama include Anthony Weiner, the New York Democrat congressman who warned against erring too far towards accommodating Republicans.

"A lot of these guys coming to town campaigned against everything this president wants to achieve," he said, adding that Mr Obama should take an "aggressive" stance to make it clear "he's not going to roll over".

Irish Independent

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