Obama's State of the Union proposals could impact Louisiana in a big way

02 13, 2013 by The Times-Picayune

President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address offered new initiatives that, if adopted, will significantly impact Louisiana, including those in the state who make the minimum wage, the oil and gas industry and the state's structurally deficient bridges. It was a bold speech, one that cheered many Democrats, but led Republicans to complain about an expensive, big government agenda that can't be sustained.

In his first State of the Union address of his second term, Obama Tuesday night called for a "Fix-it-First program to put Americans to work on the nation's most urgent repairs, such as the 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the United States. According to the Federal Highway Administration, 11.5 percent of the nation's bridges are structurally deficient, but it's 12.9 percent in Louisiana.

The president also took aim at the "soaring cost" of higher education, saying his administration on Thursday will release a new "college scorecard," telling Americans where they can get the most bang for their educational buck.

On energy, the president proposed to use some oil and gas industry revenue to help finance an Energy Security Trust to drive research and technology "to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good."

On the minimum wage, now $7.25, the president proposed an increase to $9 and after that adjusting the wage to the annual cost of living increase - something he says his Republican presidential opponent Mitt Romney advocated during the 2012 campaign.

"The single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families," Obama said. "This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families...For businesses across the country; it would mean customers with more money in their pockets."

He also called for developing, along with the states a plan to make quality pre-school available to every child in America. Questions remain how much of the cost would be picked up the federal government and how much by state and local governments.

"Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road," the president said. "But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can't afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool and for poor kids who need the help the most; this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives."

And he made an emotional appeal for a universal background checks for gun purchases, and getting "weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets." Police, he said, are tired of being outgunned.

"If you want to vote no, that's your choice," Obama said. "But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun."

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., had mixed views, praising the president's commitment to continued natural gas development, but questioning his call to target the oil and gas producers for higher taxes. She stood out in the Senate chamber with her colorful Mardi Gras beads.

"I was glad to hear the President focus on the benefits of natural gas development," Landrieu said. "This is truly a game changer for our country that is bringing us to the verge of energy independence and has the potential to create millions of good jobs across our country. It also gives us an advantage in the manufacturing sector and is helping attract big business to America because of this cheaper source of energy."

Though the president said his proposals would not add to the federal deficit, Republicans were skeptical.

"It was pretty shocking," said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson. "The president says on one hand the deficit situation is a manufactured crisis when we keep reaching the debt limit because we're spending money we don't have. And yet here he is proposing 20 new federal spending programs and he still calls for higher taxes. This just shows he is out of touch with the realities of the spending problems in Washington."

Scalise, who wore a Mardi Gras tie, has been a leading critic of the president's call for reduced carbon emissions to deal with global warming. Scalise calls global warming unproven.

Obama went after the skeptics during his State of the Union address.

"Yes, it's true that no single event makes a trend," Obama said. "But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15," Obama said. "Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods - all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science - and act before it's too late."

On global warming, Scalise said carbon emissions are coming down, yet the president still calls for "more crippling" EPA regulations and is putting too many restrictions on clean burning natural gas.

Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, said he was pleased the president made a commitment in his speech to improving the nation's ports, and presented proposals that can "significantly" benefit Louisiana.

"This shouldn't be all about, as Republicans suggest, the cost, but what the return on investment is," Richmond said. If anything, Richmond said, he believes the president low balled the benefits of early childhood education, saying the return of former Gov. Mike Foster's early-child education initiative was more like 9-1, than the seven to one figure cited by the president.

He said the president extended an "olive branch," to Republicans, but based on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's Republican response, "it doesn't appear" the GOP is willing to work with him, Richmond said.

On Twitter, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., wrote: "There's a lot we can do to create jobs w/out more spending - including producing energy jobs right here in America."

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, complained that Obama offered too much government.

"Tonight, President Obama doubled down on failed policies from the past while outlining his shortsighted vision for the future," Jindal said. "Instead of committing his second term to growth and prosperity, the president confirmed that we have gone from the greed of Wall Street to the greed of government. It's about more, more, more. More government, more spending and more economic uncertainty."

Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, reacted negatively to the president's speech.

"America has a spending problem that is creating unsustainable debt, contributing to high unemployment and all the while Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt," Cassidy said. "President Obama wants to increase taxes without offering a plan to decrease the debt or to preserve Medicare and Social Security. America needs real reforms that control spending while focusing on job creation and preserving the programs seniors have earned."

Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, also slammed the speech.

"Tonight's speech centered around America's sluggish economy, and with it ideas on how to get it moving at a faster rate," Alexander said. "Proposals for investments in infrastucture, manufacturing, clean energy, education were heard among others. However, these promises were more of the same we've all heard before, and more of the same still largely unfilled."