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Obama: Near 10 but...

  • Written by Hazel Trice Edney
  • Published in News
President Obama fell slightly short of 10 points in the view of most Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members and African-American leaders after the Tuesday night “State of the Union” address. WASHINGTON – It was an evening marked by thunderous applause, Republicans and Democrats symbolically sitting together instead of across the aisles, and a message from the President of the United States that soared with hope for economic recovery, health care, education and jobs.

Still, President Obama fell slightly short of 10 points in the view of most Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members and African-American leaders after the Tuesday night speech when they were asked to grade the “State of the Union” address on a scale of 1-10.


President Obama gives State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night. Behind him are Vice President Joe Biden (left) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). (Courtesy of TEWire)


President Obama delivers his second State of the Union Address.


President Barack Obama works on his State of the Union Speech with Director of Speechwriting Jon Favreau in the Oval Office on Monday. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

“I give it a nine-and-a-half,” said CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.).

The President, according to Cleaver, gets an “A” for giving the inspiration that was needed as the economy appears to be turning around. But, Cleaver wanted more specifics about what programs might be cut to make up for a $400 billion freeze on annual domestic spending that the President proposed to start this year and extend for the next five years.

“This freeze will require painful cuts,” President Obama said. “Already, we’ve frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years. I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs. The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.”

The reference to “community action programs” grabbed the attention of Cleaver and others within the CBC.

“The Congressional Black Caucus is going to look very seriously at any of the proposed cuts on programs that we think are critical to the survival of the least of these,” Cleaver said.

Community Action Programs, founded in the mid 70s, have helped thousands of elderly and low-income people with basic needs, such as food, financial literacy, and job search assistance.

Across the crowded Statuary Hall, where members go to meet the press after the annual State of the Union, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) gave Obama’s speech a 9.5, citing as strong points Obama’s “energy, his sense of hope and can do spirit.”

But with the $400 million freeze on domestic spending in mind, Lee said, “We’re all going to ask where and how. Americans are diverse, they are high income, middle income, low income; then there are those who are so vulnerable that their very existence depends upon a helping hand. We’ve got to be concerned on those issues.”

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) gave the speech a 6.5, with high marks for the President’s talk about increasing jobs by rebuilding America’s infrastructure.

“The stuff that he said about cuts kind of worries me. I need to know what he’s talking about. He mentions specifically programs like community action programs might have to take some cuts. Those are lifeline programs. Those are not luxury programs. These are programs that keep people subsisting. So what is he talking about?”

African-American civil rights leaders also listened intently to the President’s speech.

“We applaud the President for his foresight in recognizing that we need to prepare our workforce for the jobs of the future and to be able to compete with the rest of the world,” said National Urban League (NUL) President Marc Morial.

The NUL, Morial said in a statement, would continue to urge Congress to send “our limited resources to those youth and adults who have been disproportionately impacted by the recession – especially in our urban communities – by adopting the NUL’s proposals on summer jobs, reforming our workforce development system, and enacting the Urban Youth Empowerment Program.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose Rainbow/PUSH Coalition has historically focused on strengthening the poor, said in an interview that he would give the speech high marks for inspiration, but thought it was missing a key element.

“He didn’t mention the word poverty and poverty is growing,” said Jackson. “Forty-nine million are in poverty. They work and can’t pay their rent. Poverty is a big deal. I think his assumption is that rising tides lifts all boats. Wall Street’s yachts have lifted, but no one is discussing poverty.”

President Obama’s pledge to simultaneously shore up jobs and education was a big hit with U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) who gave the speech a 10.

“You can’t have the job if you don’t have the education. You can’t get the education if you’re not disciplined and you can’t get the discipline if you don’t have that family structure,” Scott said.

U.S. Rep. Clyburn (D-S. Car.) called the State of the Union “a great speech” and also gave it a 10, noting how far the Obama has brought the country.

“I think the people are now seeing who and what President Obama is. We have to give him credit for stepping up when we had an economy that was hemorrhaging 750,000 jobs a month,” Clyburn said. “So, when you’re responding to a crisis and you look at a place where you’ve never been, then it’s going to be hit and miss.”

Clyburn, assistant Democratic leader, also registered concern about a possible cut in community action programs (CAPS).

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who declined to give a rating, said everyone should expect cuts and should not be surprised by the Presidents mention of CAPS after the across-the-board tax cuts that Obama awarded in a deal with Republicans last year.

“That’s what happens when you pass an $850 billion tax cut,” Scott said. “Everybody wants a tax cut. That’s nice. How are we going to pay for it? Now we are finding out.”

Some CBC members praised the President for simply making hard decisions.

“I think the president hit a home run because he’s really talking about the future. If not a 10, maybe a 10 plus,” said Rep. Donna Edwards. “This is about the 21st century.”

Edwards pointed out that the President stressed his willingness to make sacrificial cuts, but only of those programs that are not necessary.

Democrat and Republican members intermingled their seating as a show of support and a more civil tone after the shooting of their colleague Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) two weeks ago. She is still recovering and was scheduled to begin rehabilitation in a Houston hospital this week.

Houston Rep. Al Green, who gave the President a nine, said he believes in leaving “room for improvement” but says the President deserves much credit “because he sought to bring us together … He (President Obama) said it’s more than about sitting together tonight. It’s about working together tomorrow.”

(Hazel Trice Edney is Editor-in-Chief of Trice Edney News Wire)

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