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State of the Union: Obama urges bipartisanship, can he deliver?

President Obama's State of the Union speech emphasized cooperation and policies favored by both Republicans and Democrats, but offered no solutions for breaking partisan gridlock in Congress.

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On the jobs front, Republicans are drawing a line on taxes: no new taxes through healthcare reform and preservation of existing tax cuts. In the run-up to Thursday night’s address, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell challenged the White House to drop the healthcare bill – “thereby signaling to American business they won’t have healthcare taxes next year” – and extend the Bush tax cuts in order to help businesses expand employment.

While Republicans welcomed a renewed focus on getting more credit flowing to small business, many oppose the use of funds from the bank bailout to do it. The president proposed directing $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid to help community banks lend more to small businesses. Those funds must be used to pay down the deficit, not as a slush fund for other projects, critics say.

“That’s not what that program was created to do,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee. “When the president diverts money that everyone knows was to be used to repay the deficit, it creates distrust.”

In a challenge to both parties, Mr. Obama reminded Democrats that “we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills.” To Republicans, he said: “If the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well.”

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A start over for healthcare reform?

Obama urged lawmakers to take a second look at healthcare reform, his main domestic priority in his first year, which has been stalled by the loss of the Massachusetts’ Senate seat.

“As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we’ve proposed,” Obama said. Republicans waved hands in the air when he added: “But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors and stop insurance company abuses, let me know.”

The Democrats had 60 votes,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas, who as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee helped fund the GOP upset in Massachusetts. “If they had been able to deal with divisions and differences within their own caucus, [healthcare reform] would have been over in August.”

But Senate Republicans without exception say that the White House needs to start over with healthcare reform. “With this monstrosity of a healthcare bill, one of the greatest public services we can provide is to stop it,” Senator Cornyn added.

Democrats say that if healthcare is to have another shot, consensus must come from within their own ranks.

“They’re not going to help him at all,” said Rep. Jim McDermott (D) of Washington, referring to Republicans in both the House and the Senate.

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