Disputing Political Priorities

Jan 31, 2014

Credit NPR

The vision President Obama laid out in his state of the union address this week is being met with suspicion by Virginia Republicans.

But Democrats  in the Commonwealth say his agenda would spur job creation.

The president has a lot of allies in the Democratic controlled Senate. But Republicans control the U-S House. That means they hold the gavels and control the agenda in the lower chamber.  So many in the G-O-P were offended to hear the president say he's planning to bypass House Republicans and use executive orders whenever possible to get his agenda through.

Virginia Republican Congressman Rob Wittman doesn't like the sound of that.  “Our founding fathers had it right. Three equal branches of government – the key word being ‘equal.’ Congress has a role here. We were elected by folks back home to represent them Making sure that Congress has a role here in addition to the executive branch.”

Democrats, like Northern Virginia Congressman Jim Moran, say it's about time the president broke through Republican obstruction. “It’s a partisan atmosphere and we have too many members on the House Majority who really don’t want the government to be able to fulfill its most important functions. They don’t want it to be serving the American people adequately. So I think he should use the executive authority that he has.”

One of the first items on the president's list is to raise the minimum wage to ten dollars and ten cents for new federal contractors - many of whom will work in the commonwealth.

While Northern Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly says it's not going to have a massive impact on the state's economy he says it's a positive step.  “Service contracts, you know, providing basic services to the military or to the federal government – you know building security, food services, things like that – it can make a big difference in the lives of thousands of people.”

As for what the state’s military personal and contractors heard from the president's new agenda?   “It was crickets," said Virginia Republican Congressman Randy Forbes.  Democrats are lauding the president for saying the U-S needs to end its permanent war footing across the globe. But Forbes says the president isn't doing enough to sustain the military in the long term.   “I mean what did he say about building our readiness and changing the curve lines that are dismantling the greatest military that we’ve ever known.”

The main focus of the state of the union address was on income inequality and closing that gap in the U-S.  

But is there any common ground for the two parties to work together? Wittman says while he disagrees on many of the policy ideas being floated by the president there is some common ground.  “But I do agree with him that the basic fundamental strength of this nation is our people and if we empower them and give them opportunity, great things happen in our nation.”

While the two parties diverge on just what that empowerment looks like, there does seem to be a growing bipartisan consensus that immigration reform is necessary. Moran says it was good the president didn't brow beat House Republicans for taking their time on the divisive issue.  “The majority stood and applauded what he wants to do, particularly on immigration I thought we got a number of Republicans standing. I think we could do immigration. I think there’s a good shot at increasing the minimum wage. It’s not a lost cause.”

It's an election year and as each week rolls on the campaign rhetoric is also expected to drown out policy discussions, which means the two parties now only have a small window to pass any of the president's 2014 priorities.