President asks for patience and unity from Congress, nation 

Pleading with skeptical Americans to “take another look” at health care reform, President Obama tried turning a corner on his struggling administration with a series of modest initiatives centered on economic recovery.

Obama’s first State of the Union address confronted his own political limitations and waning public support, while calling on Congress and the public to rally behind him, saying “Our union is strong. We do not give up, we do not quit.”

“I campaigned on the promise of change — change we can believe in, the slogan went,” Obama said. “And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change — or at least, that I can deliver it.”

With public approval ratings hovering around 50 percent and his own party facing dubious prospects in this year’s midterm elections, Obama’s tasks for the crucial speech included giving Democrats an agenda to campaign on and reconnecting with a dispirited public.

He offered no new way forward on health care reform — his signature issue which has consumed political and public debate for the better part of a year — instead urging Congress to “not walk away” from the issue.

Among more controversial — and less likely — initiatives, Obama resurrected his call to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military, and vowed to work with the Senate on a carbon emissions bill.

Specific proposals, many of which were leaked ahead of the speech, include using $30 billion in repaid federal stimulus funds to provide a tax break for small business.

Obama also called for increasing exports and asked Congress to send him a jobs bill that includes tax breaks for companies that create jobs, and to extend tax cuts for the middle class.

Obama, whose economic policies in the first year centered on accelerated federal spending, abruptly shifted course with a vow to freeze some federal spending for three years, and called for a bipartisan fiscal commission to oversee spending cuts and other deficit-reduction efforts.

After campaigning against congressional earmarks and later signing a bill larded with earmarks, Obama called on Congress to put all earmarks online so the public can review them before a vote.

He tried recasting his stalled health care reform package as a way to spur the economy and reduce the deficit, conceding that it was a hard sell but insisting the effort is still worth doing.

“I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people,” Obama said. “And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, this process left most Americans wondering what’s in it for them.  But I also know this problem is not going away.”

Polls have shown a majority of Americans oppose Obama’s health care proposal.

“I don’t think there was any point in talking specifics right now”. Rep Jim McDermott, D-Wash., said of Obamas health care remarks. “At this point it has to be negotiated in a quiet room where people can shout at each other.”

Republicans in Congress were glad to see Obama back off a bit on health care.

“The point is he recognized that he got skunked last week,” Rep. Vern Ehlers, R-Mich, said of the Democratic loss in the Massachusetts special Senate election.

The speech, freighted with expectations, was still being revised less than two hours before the president delivered it. The speech came in at 6,317 words and taking 70 minutes to deliver.

“I am not naïve,” Obama said. “I never thought the mere fact of my election would usher in peace, harmony, and some post-partisan era. 

I knew that both parties have fed divisions that are deeply entrenched.  And on some issues, there are simply philosophical differences that will always cause us to part ways.

“That’s just how it is,” he said.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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