GOP Leaders Give Obama Style Points For Speech

Some of President Obama's staunchest opponents acknowledged Wednesday that his address to Congress, in which he promised to "act boldly and wisely" to restore the nation's recession-battered economy, was an effective speech.

What they want now: detailed proposals on a variety of pressing issues.

The address was a "great starting-off point," Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) told NPR on Wednesday. Cantor, who was a key figure in rallying unanimous House Republican opposition to Obama's just-passed $787 billion stimulus package, said he disagrees with the general thrust of the spending plan but thinks Republicans and Democrats will "have some ability to work together to get results."

As Congress faces other pressing issues, "I think we can work together to ensure that whatever did pass succeeds," he said.

Cantor's comments mirror the official Republican response to the speech, delivered by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who mixed a defense of core Republican values with an overall pledge to work with Obama.

Jindal spoke of the need to focus on energy, health care and education — three key areas in which Obama said he wanted to expand programs. The governor also talked of Republicans' need to regain Americans' trust, saying the party had strayed from its principles.

Tuesday night, Obama vowed to "restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas." Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), asked to comment by NPR's Morning Edition, said both parties had an interest in closing tax loopholes.

"We are going to make sure that we have a tax code that makes our industry competitive with other countries," the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee said. "The extent to which the tax code is being abused, Republicans — just like Democrats — are going to close that."

Obama stated emphatically that taxes on individuals making less than $250,000 a year would not be raised. He made no mention of taxes on small businesses, but Republicans were eager to contrast their stand on taxes with the Democrats'.

"I think you will see House Republicans strongly oppose any effort to raise taxes on small business owners during these difficult economic times. So, that was certainly a red flag," Rep. Michael Pence, a Republican from Indiana, said after the speech.

Rep. Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat, said he appreciated Obama's promise to include disaster spending and the war in the new budget, instead of moving the items "off budget" to make the bottom line look better.

"The budget is going to be the first honest budget we've had in America in a long time," Cooper said. Obama is "putting things on budget that should have been on budget all along, like the cost of the war ... things that Congress and the president wanted to sweep under the rug."

But while politicians focused largely on specifics, others looked at the broader speech.

"I think if you give Americans a mission, I think they can come together to achieve it and I think that's what [Obama] started to do tonight," Ethan Vaughan, a junior in political science at George Mason University, said in an NPR interview.

Another George Mason student interviewed by NPR said she was relieved that the speech did not focus as heavily on terrorism as many of President George W. Bush's addresses did.

"I got really tired of that over the years," said Katherine Conlon, a history and music major. "I'd rather have a president who is willing to try a lot of things and recognizes failures than to stubbornly keep going on the same path even through his failure."

From NPR and wire service reports.

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