State of the Union reactions: a mix of praise and skepticism

President Obama's State of the Union speech evoked mixed reactions from groups representing seniors, environmentalists, and small businesses. Some praised his policy proposals but wanted to see more action.

Seth Wenig/AP
While a television shows clips from President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, Thursday.

Reaction to State of the Union addresses typically pours quickly into journalists’ various electronic in-boxes once the speech is over. This year is no exception: virtually every lobby group and interest organization in Washington appears to have something to say about President Obama’s State of the Union talk.

State of the Unions are pivot points for all kinds of issues, after all. Obama is trying to reset Washington’s agenda. That sets lots of lobbyists, activists, and D.C. lawyers scrambling.

Here’s a sampling of reactions from interest groups so far:

Deficit hawks: The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a deficit hawk group, says it is thrilled that Obama talked about debt reduction in the State of the Union (SOTU) address. The group supports his call for a freeze on non-defense discretionary spending, a bipartisan commission on fiscal issues, and reinstatement of congressional statutory pay-as-you-go laws.

“But actions speak louder than words,” said the group’s president, Maya MacGuineas. “In the coming weeks and months, we urge the President to bring together members of both parties and begin taking concrete actions to stabilize the debt once the economy recovers.”

Seniors: The powerful seniors lobby group, American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), is also happy with President Obama – to a point. In his statement, AARP CEO A. Barry Rand praised Obama’s proposal for an automatic IRA to help current workers save for retirement. But Mr. Rand asks Obama “to go further” by renewing a request to help those who depend on Social Security but did not get a cost-of-living raise for 2010.

And AARP, a strong proponent of healthcare reform legislation now stalled in Congress, seemed faintly disappointed that Obama did not push harder for progress on that bill. “We have come too far to give up now on healthcare reform,” said Rand.

Environmentalists: Environmental groups generally said they were happy with Obama’s call for comprehensive clean energy legislation. But some of their remarks were tinged with an edge, noting the fact that many pundits say cap-and-trade limits on carbon emissions are unlikely to make it through Congress any time soon.

“The fact is that those in Washington who continue to predict the demise of comprehensive clean energy and climate reform, as well as those in Congress who side with Big Oil in opposition to such reform, stand at odds with the American public’s desire to build a clean energy economy and curb global warming pollution,” said League of Conservation Voters president Gene Karpinski in a statement.

Restaurants: Yes, restaurants are the nation’s second-largest private employer, according to the National Restaurant Association. They support Obama’s call for tax incentives to create additional jobs, including his proposal to use unspent financial system bailout money to directly support small business lending.

On healthcare reform, National Restaurant Association took the occasion of the State of the Union to point out that it likes the Sentate version of this legislation better.

“It is essential to the restaurant industry that the protections added to the Senate version of this legislation be included if the Congress enacts any reform,” said NRA president Dawn Sweeney.


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