WASHINGTON — The Arkansas delegation largely walked away from Tuesday evening’s State of the Union address feeling a little bit of déjà vu as President Barack Obama outlined an agenda they said he has sought before.
“We’ve heard most of these words before,” said Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock.
“I felt it was mostly recycled policies of the last five years that led to the failures of the last five years,” said Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle.
“So much of it was predictable,” said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers.
The address, which ran about 90 minutes, focused mostly on domestic issues, with Obama noting that the economy has improved since he took office five years ago and that his signature health care law is helping people who otherwise would be uninsured.
Still, Obama said more needs to be done to help end disparities in pay and education.
“The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by — let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all,” Obama said.
“Our job is to reverse these tides. It won’t happen right away, and we won’t agree on everything. But what I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class.”
In particular, Obama called for an increase of the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour — an idea that drew applause from many Democrats but few Republicans. He also called for greater efforts to eliminate pay gaps for women. And he suggested more education opportunities for the young.
Obama said he wants this to be a year of action and offered to work with Congress to improve the economy. But he noted that he would use his administrative powers to act if there are roadblocks in Congress.
Arkansas lawmakers expressed concerns that Obama will continue to bypass Congress rather than negotiate.
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., joined his Republican colleagues in suggesting that the president look harder to find common ground with Congress.
“He does have some powers to do this but I think it is always best to try to go through Congress and work it out — even if you don’t get your way exactly. That’s democracy,” Pryor said.
Pryor sat next to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. He applauded politely or not at all on most of the occasions when Democrats in the House chamber cheered Obama’s words.
“I was somewhat disappointed,” Pryor said. “The president did a good job in talking in generalities but not offering many specifics. I think I’m ready for specifics.”
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said that the most exceptional part of the address came at the end when Obama introduced Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, who was seated next to First Lady Michelle Obama in the gallery.
Remsburg was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan, laying in a coma for months. He is working hard to recover — regaining his speech and walking again.
“He’s a great example that we can get through our problems,” Boozman said.
Griffin said he took away at least some hope that tax reform can be accomplished in the next year.
“The president mentioned tax reform twice. But, the president can’t just mention it and then never mention it again until the next State of the Union,” Griffin said. “We’re working on it in Ways and Means and I do believe will get something out.”
Womack said that House Republicans are also willing to join him in any effort to reduce regulations that are hampering business growth and job creation.
“We’ve got bills stacked up on red tape that are just sitting in the Senate,” Womack said.