Nevada’s Democrats: Obama connected

WASHINGTON — Needing to show that he can connect to the concerns of Americans worried about their jobs, their homes and their health care, President Barack Obama delivered an effective State of the Union speech, Nevada Democrats in Congress said after the address Wednesday night.

But in a reaction suggesting that Obama was not entirely successful in closing the partisan divide that has put Congress at loggerheads for the past few years, some Republicans said they were still skeptical.

In a speech heavily focused on economic problems at home, Obama declared he will press ahead to find solutions and pleaded with lawmakers to act responsibly in giving him a hand.

"I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone," he said. "We don’t quit. I don’t quit."

Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said he now will look for "a genuine effort" by the president to work with Republicans.

"I agree with the president that Congress should work in a bipartisan manner, we need to do more to help the middle class and our economy deserves greater attention," Heller said in a statement. "However, as we learned with health care, the rhetoric and policy do not always match up."

The speech was peppered with specific policy proposals, but Americans were more likely to be looking for clues to the larger question of whether Obama is still the same person who was elected president or whether he has fallen off his game after a tough first year in office, some lawmakers said.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said Obama was effective in conveying that he understands the challenges Americans face.

"I thought he did very well what he needed to do," Berkley said. "He wanted the American people to recognize that he understands what they are going through and that he is working very hard to alleviate the suffering that many families are going through right now."

Obama "talked about our future and his vision of how we are going to get there," Berkley said. "When he talks about education, energy independence, infrastructure and investing in jobs, those are the big themes that I embrace and share his enthusiasm for."

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said Obama struck the right notes by emphasizing that his first priority this year will be job creation. A former university professor, Titus applauded his promises to make college more affordable by giving families $10,000 tax credits and forgiving loan balances after 20 years.

Titus said she felt better as a Democrat in listening to Obama. A freshman who faces a challenging re-election race, she has been urging party leaders to make bread-and-butter issues the priority for this year.

Titus said she was disappointed Obama did not talk about attacking the housing crisis that still has Las Vegas in its grip. And she would prefer the president not endorse the construction of new nuclear power plants, as he did in the speech, as long as there remains any possibility that radioactive waste might end up at Yucca Mountain.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Democrats on Capitol Hill are in sync with Obama in being focused "on putting Americans back to work, protecting struggling homeowners, strengthening our national security and ensuring affordable health insurance."

"President Obama engaged America in a conversation about what has worked, what needs improvement and how we can move forward together," Reid said in a statement. "Nevadans and all Americans should know that their leaders in Washington understand their struggles and have a plan to relieve them."

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said he welcomed Obama’s promise of bipartisanship and said Republicans have some ideas on economic recovery they plan to bring to the table.

"We need to take ideas from both sides of the aisle and put them into action for Americans," Ensign said.

He said Obama’s plan to freeze spending on parts of the budget "doesn’t go far enough." He said a freeze should start at last year’s levels and not at "dramatically" higher levels of this year.

Ensign disagreed with Obama’s plan to direct unspent bailout money from the Troubled Assets Relief Program to help community banks expand their lending.

"Unspent TARP money and money that has been paid back into the TARP fund should go towards reducing the deficit instead of creating a brand new slush fund that Congress will spend on new government programs," Ensign said.

"Congress has the responsibility to enact legislation that reduces wasteful government spending, creates jobs, and strengthens national security; through this, we can improve our economy and save the future of our country."

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault @reviewjournal.com or 202-783-1760.

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