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Republicans' Responses Take Shots At Obamacare, Push Keystone XL

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, rehearses her remarks for the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday. Susan Walsh/AP hide caption

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Susan Walsh/AP

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, rehearses her remarks for the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Susan Walsh/AP

Joni Ernst, who in 2014 became the first woman elected to the Senate from Iowa, offered the Republican response to the State of the Union last night and introduced herself to the nation.

In a speech that referenced her thrifty upbringing in rural Iowa and her 20 years of service in the armed forces, Ernst often echoed the themes of the president's speech — increasing exports, reforming the tax code, going after the Islamic State and combating cyberattacks — and his call for cooperation in areas where there is agreement.

But she also reinforced Republicans' intentions to take a more active and aggressive stand against Iran's nuclear plan and to continue efforts to roll back the Affordable Care Act.

"These days though, many families feel like they're working harder and harder, with less and less to show for it. Not just in Red Oak, but across the country. We see our neighbors agonize over stagnant wages and lost jobs. We see the hurt caused by canceled healthcare plans and higher monthly insurance bills. ... Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare."

She also said the president needed to stop dragging his feet on the construction of a major oil pipeline through the middle of the country.

"One you've probably heard about is the Keystone jobs bill. President Obama has been delaying this bipartisan infrastructure project for years, even though many members of his party, unions, and a strong majority of Americans support it. The President's own State Department has said Keystone's construction could support thousands of jobs and pump billions into our economy, and do it with minimal environmental impact. We worked with Democrats to pass this bill through the House. We're doing the same now in the Senate. President Obama will soon have a decision to make: will he sign the bill, or block good American jobs?"

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida delivered a Spanish-language rebuttal to the president's speech on behalf of the GOP, which the party has said will be similar in tone and content to Ernst's.

Two libertarian-leaning members of the party, Rep. Curt Clawson of Florida and possible presidential aspirant Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, also put out official responses to the State of the Union.

Rather than address Obama's plans directly, Clawson — speaking on behalf of Tea Party Express — said all new government programs and increases to federal debt or taxes were wrong. He said that "we need to lift the economic shackles of Obamacare," that the small-business and corporate tax rates should be cut in half, and that the Keystone XL pipeline must be completed.

Clawson also emphasized a belief on his part and on the part of other likeminded, new congressmen, that American needed to promise equal opportunity, not equal outcomes. And he used his experience as a basketball player at Purdue to encourage cooperation in Washington.

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Paul, meanwhile used his speech to advance big ideas of his own — including a balanced budget amendment and "first do no harm" foreign policy — while accusing President Obama of offering only more of the same.

He also suggested some wholesale changes to Congress itself: Term limits for all U.S. representatives and senators, and a bill that would prevent Congress from exempting legislators from the laws they pass. He also proposes a "Read The Bills Act" that requires a one-day delay in passing a bill for every 20 pages in its printed length.

The potential 2016 presidential candidate also had some choice words on the Affordable Care Act: "

"President Obama's fundamental promise that if you like your doctor, you can keep them, was a lie. Obamacare at its core takes away a patient's right to choose. Under Obamacare, patients are prohibited from choosing their doctor or their insurance company. Today, more Americans may have medical insurance, but Americans are now paying more money for worse care. ... Obamacare restricts freedom and must be repealed."