Cool reaction from Republicans to Obama's call for compromise

Wed, Jan 23, 2013, 00:00

Republicans reacted coolly to US president Barack Obama’s inaugural address and call for compromise to introduce ambitious laws on immigration reform and gun control, and to make hard decisions on the fiscal deficit.

“I would have liked to see more outreach,” said US senator John McCain, who lost to Mr Obama in the 2008 election. “There was not, as I’ve seen in other inaugural speeches, an ‘I want to work with my colleagues’.”

In a series of perceived digs at Republicans during his 18-minute speech, Mr Obama signalled that he would protect social welfare spending, which the GOP is targeting in a bid to cap the $16.4 trillion (€12 billion) deficit.

The president referred to the recent bitter battles with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and called for unity to legislate, alluding to the upcoming deadline to raise the nation’s borrowing limit.

“For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay,” he said. “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”

He rejected the idea that “America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future”.

Social spending

The idea that healthcare and social spending should be maintained will cause alarm among Republicans who want spending cuts as part of a deal on raising the debt ceiling that would allow the US to pay its bills.

“It was a speech outlining vigorous support for expanding the size and reach of government at a time when there is a national call for, and bipartisan support of, reduced Washington spending,” said a spokesman for Republican Mitch McConnell, the minority leader of the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Republican senator Robert Portman said Mr Obama “missed the opportunity to talk about where we can find common ground”.

Senator John Thune, also a Republican, said the president “wasn’t doing the kind of outreach that he needs to do if he wants to get things accomplished in the second term”.

Eric Cantor, the second highest-ranking Republican in the House, where he is majority leader, refused to engage in bipartisanship on inauguration day. He also would not be drawn on whether far-right Republicans found Mr Obama’s speech too aggressive or too liberal.

“The president did a fine job certainly laying out what he would like to see happen as far as the future of the country,” he said. “There are plenty of areas of disagreement but there are also things that fundamentally we agree on – and that is this country is one of opportunity.”

‘Progressive’ speech

Former US president Jimmy Carter described the speech as “very progressive”.

“I don’t have any doubt that now he’ll be much more attentive to those things than he could be during the first four years,” Mr Carter told MSNBC.

The New York Times said the president “argued eloquently for a progressive view of government, founded on history and his own deep conviction that American prosperity and the preservation of freedom depend on collective action”.

The newspaper’s editorial on Mr Obama’s speech said he “made a forceful argument for a progressive agenda that meets the nation’s needs. We hope he has the political will and tactical instincts to carry it out.”

The Washington Post described the president’s inaugural address as “something approaching a liberal manifesto”.

“Mr Obama’s second inaugural address was such a departure from the soaring generalities of some predecessors’ speeches that at times it sounds as though he were still running against Mitt Romney,” it said in an editorial.