Four area legislators on Tuesday shared their thoughts on what President Barack Obama had to say in his sixth State of the Union address.
The two Democrats and two Republicans expected the president to focus on jobs and economic growth, and they weren’t off mark.
The Democrats stressed the importance of increasing minimum wage and worker training, while Republicans said cutting back on excessive regulation, opening new markets and tax reform are needed to get the economy moving.
Rep. Matthew Cartwright
U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, said “economic opportunity” should be Congress’ and the administration’s top priority.
In a news release, Cartwright commended Obama on “beginning the conversation” by signing an executive order Tuesday morning providing a minimum wage increase to $10.10 for federally contracted workers.
“July will mark five years since the federal minimum wage was last raised, that’s why I support legislation introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. George Miller that would raise the minimum wage of $10.10 (nationally) by 2016. This policy would directly provide higher wages for close to 17 million workers by 2016,” Cartwright said.
Cartwright said research suggests that a minimum-wage increase could have a small stimulative effect on the economy as low-wage workers spend their additional earnings, raising demand and providing job growth.
Sen. Robert P. Casey
“I am gratified that the president made jobs and the economy the central focus of his State of the Union address,” U.S. Sen. Robert Casey said in a prepared statement after the speech.
“Despite recent economic progress, far too many Americans are still struggling to get back on their feet. If you work hard and play by the rules, you should have the opportunity to succeed. I was encouraged by the President’s emphasis on worker training programs, hiring incentives and pay equity to ensure workers have the chance to get ahead,” Casey said.
Casey said responsible development of natural gas is something he has pushed for a long time and the president’s proposal will help create jobs in Pennsylvania while at the same time decreasing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.
“I was also glad to see that the President underscored his commitment to early education and research to ensure our nation’s long-term global competitiveness,” Casey said.
“I look forward to working with Republicans and Democrats to advance these efforts along with additional job creation measures like my bipartisan small business bill so that we can grow the economy and strengthen the middle class.”
Casey previewed speech
Earlier in the day in a teleconference with the media, Casey underscored additional points he thought Obama would touch on, focusing on increasing the minimum wage.
Increasing the minimum wage “would be the right thing to do for workers” and is important for not only minimum wage earners, but for the economy, and is another way to help children because 15 million children live in a household in which at least one parent is a minimum wage earner, Casey said.
Even though Obama was unable to push through an increase to $9 an hour in 2013, Casey is optimistic Congress can pass a bill this year because “no matter what party you’re in or what part of the country you’re in, the challenges that these families face are still every bit as acute and intense and burdensome as they were a year or two ago.”
Casey also said he hoped the president would focus on helping small businesses. He pointed to a bills that would set a permanent maximum tax deduction at $250,000 and a 10-percent tax credit for hiring new employees.
Rep. Louis Barletta
U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, said he didn’t hear anything in Obama’s speech that would turn the economy around.
“Tonight, the president tried to convince us that our economy is better off today than it was when he first took office. However, our national debt is $18 trillion and growing, the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act has proven disastrous, and executive overreach has become the new normal in Washington,” Barletta said.
Barletta said the president spoke of income inequality, but opined that his policies have done nothing to help close the gap, much less spur the economy or create jobs.
I believe the best way to address this divide is to put hardworking Americans back to work. We should invest in our small businesses, our infrastructure, and the next generation of our nation’s workforce. More government regulations will only add fuel to the fire, amplifying existing problems that our country cannot afford,” he said.
On immigration reform, Barletta said he’s unconvinced that “legal status is anything less than the functional equivalent of amnesty. I’ve seen very little throughout this debate to assure me that we will permanently secure our borders. Failure to do so will repeat the mistakes of the 1986 amnesty law that gave birth to the illegal immigration crisis our country has faced for the last two decades.”
Bemoaning broken promises
“This past year Americans suffered countless broken promises from the president. If we hope to ensure equal opportunities for all Americans, a ‘pen and phone’ strategy is not the answer.”
Asked if he agreed with anything the president had to say, Barletta pointed to the need for pre-kindergarten early education as well as “the need to match people to new job skills. I’ve been a supporter of that for some time.”
He also agrees with the president on a need for tax reform and a need to do more for small businesses.
“However, his over-regulation is what’s killing small businesses and the entrepreneurial spirit in our country. His idea is good, but his policy is what’s hurting the economy. More people are falling into poverty and more people have given up looking for work,” Barletta said.
Sen. Patrick Toomey
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey said the problems the president decried in his speech “have grown far worse as a direct result of his policies. Now he is threatening to double down on those failed policies with unilateral executive fiats that may exceed his constitutional and legal authority.”
Toomey, in a news release, also said Obama overstated the extent of the economy’s recovery under his policies.
“The labor force participation is at its lowest point in 35 years because more and more people have become so discouraged with our dismal job market that they have given up looking for work in the Obama economy. Median family income is down by $2,000 since he took office. And the very income inequality the President spoke of has exploded under his leadership, so that today there is a wider gap than there was under President Bush and even prior to the Great Depression in 1928,” Toomey said.
In response to Obama’s call for an increase in the minimum wage, Toomey said there are ways to create jobs and a more robust economy in which all incomes rise, “for women and men, upper and lower income, everyone.” He touted a bill he worked on with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., to help small business grow and hire workers.
Some mutual agreement
Toomey agreed with the president that tax reform is needed, and pledged to support reform that would “spur economic growth and enable American workers to compete successfully against foreign workers.”
Toomey said median income grew between 2007 and 2012 in “predominantly energy producing areas,” and called for Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which he said “would create many jobs for Pennsylvania-based contractors and suppliers and allow the production of oil and gas on more federal lands to diminish our dependence on foreign energy.”
“I am glad President Obama stressed the need for Trade Promotion Authority (Tuesday night). On a bipartisan basis, we must allow the president to complete trade deals that will open up foreign markets for Pennsylvania exports,” Toomey said.
“While we disagree on other economic issues, I am reassured that our president remains committed to maintaining America’s role as a global trade leader,” Toomey said. “I remain eager to work with the president on this issue and other efforts that will grow our economy.”