Predictably, there was wide variety in reactions to
President Bush's final State of the Union address from Tennesseans in Congress.
9th District congressman Steve Cohen issued a
lengthy statement reviewing the terms of the bipartisan stimulus-package
agreement between Bush and the Congress, but made it clear he thought the
package could - and should - be improved.
"While the stimulus package
provides some good news for taxpayers," Cohen said, "I believe we need a
progressive plan which includes provisions to extend unemployment benefits,
increase food stamps, promote summer youth jobs programs, and provide rebates
for the seniors without earned income.
" I also believe there needs to
be a cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security beneficiaries - something
that is long overdue. Prominent economists agree that extending tax rebates to
the Americans who live from check to check is the most effective means of
boosting the economy during a downturn because that money is spent quickly on
consumer goods. I will continue to work with other members of Congress toward
In his address, Bush
specifically cautioned against the possible delaying effect of such efforts to
include more benefits in the package.
Cohen also took exception to
Bush's remarks concerning "earmarks," contending that Congress had enacted
serious reforms after six years in which the president had done nothing" to slow
The assessment from 8th District congressman
John Tanner, a Democrat, was also harsh - especially on economic points.
It is clear, he said, "that the economic and fiscal
policies enacted in 2001 have been disastrous for our country, resulting in an
unprecedented amount of borrowing over the last 72 months and transferring a
large portion of the U.S. tax revenue base from spending power to interest
payments, much of which we are sending to foreign sources.."
Tanner said that "to continue
that level of fiscal irresponsibility represents an economic vulnerability and a
national security concern," and added, "I hope the President will truly work
with Congress to address these economic concerns before he leaves office.
A far more enthusiastic review
of the president's remarks and proposals came from 7th District
representative Marsha Blackburn, who was the only Tennessean to second Bush's
call for immediate "FISA reforms" (e.g., stricter security methods that many
Democrats regard as questionable, even unconstitutional).
Blackburn also approved both Bush's
estimate of the current military surge as successful and his determination to
stay the course in Iraq. Like Cohen, she wanted additions to the stimulus
program, but in her case that meant "tax and regulatory reform."
She also joined in Bush's call
for action to make his tax cuts permanent, and, like the deputy whip which she
is, called for action on "items that require Congress' immediate attention."
The state's two Republicans senators issued cautious statements, and, in the case of freshman Senator Bob Corker, criticism.
Corker commended Bush for
sounding "serious" about "reining in wasteful spending and irresponsible
earmarks, increasing our energy security by implementing policies that
incentivize innovation and market-driven technology, and making health care more
affordable and accessible for all Americans."
But he cautioned: "I do have
strong reservations about the economic stimulus package. I find something
inappropriate about a deficit-ridden federal government borrowing money from our
grandchildren and sprinkling it across the country for a short-term fix that
will do little, if anything, to jump-start our troubled economy."
Like Corker, Senator Lamar
Alexander praised the president's resolves on restoring health to the economy;
he also said Bush was "on the right track" to offer $300 million in scholarships
to low-income families and to continue supporting Pell grants.
The former Education Secretary
offered his own parallel preference for additional educational choices.
Beyond this point of
concurrence, Alexander stressed his own concern for offering Americans more and
better jobs and "access to qualify, affordable health insurance."
Perhaps tellingly, neither
senator, both of whom have called for a shift in priorities in the Middle East,
had a word to say about Bush's foreign initiatives, including the president's
continued reliance on military surge efforts.
None of the Tennessee
representatives or senators made mention of Bush's almost casually mentioned
hopes of securing an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians to end a half
century of division and conflict in the Holy Land.
Ford had an uncanny ability to get himself seen on TV in friendly conversation with Bush in the aftermath of State-of-Union addresses. But Cohen went him one better Monday night.
In full view of a national television audience, the Memphis congressman was seen handing the president a University of Memphis booster cap and successfully getting Bush's autograph.
And one at least one network, the one coincidentally seen by U of M basketball coach John Calipari, Cohen and Bush were heard to be discussing the forthcoming cage contest between Memphis and Houston. (Both agreed the game would be a likely mismatch.)