State of the Union: Area lawmakers outline priorities

Posted on January 28, 2014 18:00 pm CST

Springfield News-Leader
Written by Deirdre Shesgreen

WASHINGTON — Missouri lawmakers will head into tonight’s State of the Union speech with sharply different legislative wish lists.

Rep. Billy Long, R-Springfield, wants President Barack Obama to talk about the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya and to outline additional restraints on the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., wants the president to make a big push for fresh federal investments in infrastructure, education and scientific research.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., wants Obama to concede that his signature achievement, the 2010 health care reform law, is “flawed” and to say he’ll work with Congress to replace it.

Their competing ideas illustrate how deep the divisions run in this Congress and how big Obama’s challenge will be as he presses his 2014 agenda.

White House officials have signaled that in his speech, Obama will urge Congress to raise the minimum wage, complete an immigration overhaul, and extend lapsed unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, among other things. In what the White House has dubbed a “year of action,” Obama will also highlight his executive authority to advance his priorities -- such as enacting new environmental protections -- in the face of congressional gridlock.

That has irked many Republicans, who say the president doesn’t want to compromise and is instead trying to cut the GOP out of the policymaking process.

“Republicans in Congress are ready for a ‘year of action’,” Blunt said in the GOP’s weekly address on Saturday. “Ready to enact a pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda.”

Blunt’s top priorities include reducing federal regulations and approving the contentious Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry Canadian crude oil to the Gulf Coast. Blunt said such projects would help “create economic opportunities for American workers by supporting increased domestic energy production.”

McCaskill said the best way to jump-start the economy would be to increase federal spending on everything from roads and bridges to schools and job-training programs.

“We’ve been focused so much on figuring out ways we can make government smaller and spending less,” she said. “But . . . we have to still make sure we’re making the proper investments to keep us the most powerful nation in the world.”

She welcomes Obama’s call to raise the minimum wage because it would lift up working families. And she dismissed GOP complaints that the focus on such measures amounted to “class warfare,” as Blunt put it in his remarks on Saturday.

“What we’re trying to do is find an equitable way to make sure people who work as hard as they know how don’t live in poverty,” McCaskill said in an interview Monday.

Long and other Republicans said a minimum wage hike would do more harm than good.

“It’s not practical to go out and double the expenses for restaurants and (other businesses),” Long said. Democrats propose raising the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10.

Long said Obama needs to focus on restoring public confidence in Washington — and he can do that by addressing scandals that have tarnished his administration.

“I’d like to have him come out and say point blank that he wants to get to the bottom of what happened in Benghazi and let the chips fall where they may,” Long said. Four Americans died in that attack, and the State Department came under fire in a bipartisan congressional report released earlier this month for failing to heed warnings about the need for increased security at U.S. installations in Libya.

Long said he also wants Obama to promise the extra scrutiny the IRS gave to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status has stopped and will not happen again. And he wants the president to call for greater curbs on the NSA’s mass collection of phone call data.

Earlier this month, Obama defended the surveillance program, but said he would push for new restrictions on access to the phone records and didn’t want the government to store the data.

Long said the NSA program has “run amok” and his constituents are “furious” about it. “We don’t need to be prying into . . . who called who, what, when, where,” he said. Obama’s promise to have a third party hold the data “doesn’t give me any great confidence,” Long added.

McCaskill said that despite the partisan gulf going into Tuesday’s address, she thinks 2014 could be a productive year. She noted that Congress recently passed a sweeping bipartisan spending bill and negotiators appear to be on the verge of a breakthrough on the long-stalled farm bill.

“We’re on a roll,” McCaskill said.







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