President’s Focus On Economy, Middle Class Resonates with Mass. Legislators

Photo courtesy of Pete Souza for the White House
Photo courtesy of Pete Souza for the White House.

By Edward Donga
BU News Service

WASHINGTON–As members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation waited for President Obama to begin his State of the Union address Wednesday night, he greeted them with the words of one of their predecessors.

“Fifty one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this chamber that, ‘the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress,” Obama noted, quoting the one-time Bay State senator who went on to become president.

Obama’s opening comment set the tone for a speech in which the president emphasized the need for a bipartisan effort to tackle the nation’s problems, including a concerted effort to strengthen the middle class. “It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth, a rising, thriving middle class,” Obama said.

The president’s appeal clearly resonated with members of the current all-Democratic Massachusetts congressional delegation, who agreed with his focus on solving the issues that plague America’s working families.

“The president’s framework for sustained growth will help middle-class families get ahead,” said newly appointed Sen. William (Mo) Cowan, D-Mass., in a statement after the speech. “Reducing unnecessary spending and cleaning up our tax code is exactly the type of balanced approach to fiscal policy that the people of Massachusetts have been calling for.”

Rep. William Keating, D-Bourne, struck a similar note in a post-speech statement. “We need to stop using the debt and deficit as talking points and start addressing them so that we bring our economy back to flourishing – and our jobs along with it,” he declared.

“It’s time to stop the partisan sideshow and start being the catalysts for positive change in our country,” Keating continued. “In other words, it’s time to put the American people first.”

Reps. James McGovern, D-Worcester, and Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell, both thought the president’s proposals boded well for their districts.

“I thought it was a great speech,” said McGovern in a telephone interview Wednesday night. “It focused on job creation as the way to reduce our deficit.”

McGovern suggested that Obama’s emphasis on science and innovation, particularly in the medical industries, would benefit job growth in his district. He also felt that the president’s focus on education would bring increased prosperity to the Worcester region.

In a separate telephone interview, Tsongas appreciated the president’s focus on clean energy — noting that the clean energy sector has brought numerous jobs to her district north of Boston.

Keating, whose district includes Cape Cod and the Cape Wind project, agreed. “I am particularly encouraged by the president’s steadfast support of renewable energy, which will help harness the potential of our marine district and grow our regional economy in Massachusetts. Investments in clean energy will yield great opportunities not only for my constituents but also for our nation’s infrastructure needs as rail and assembly sites will soon follow.”

Tsongas also praised the president’s plan to bring manufacturing jobs back to America, stating that some of the cities in her district first blossomed during the Industrial Revolution.

“The Third District is home to many industrial cities rooted in manufacturing,” Tsongas noted.

However, both McGovern and Tsongas shared a common concern with Mr. Obama’s speech: the president’s stance on Afghanistan.

Although both legislators agreed with the president’s plan to end the war in Afghanistan by the end of the year, they wish the process could be accelerated.

“I wanted to end the war in Afghanistan sooner,” said McGovern, who intends to continue to press the administration to bring the war to a close.

“I would support a more aggressive timetable,” added Tsongas. She also would have liked the president to discuss what he will do to ensure that the gains women in the military have made since the war began are kept in place after the troops are withdrawn.

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-South Boston, a candidate in a forthcoming special election for the Senate seat formerly held by now-Secretary of State John Kerry – and presently occupied on an interim basis by Cowan – issued a statement supportive of a number of initiatives that Obama mentioned in the speech.

Lynch noted that Mr. Obama had outlined a “broad agenda” including “incentives to bring manufacturing jobs back to America, repair the housing economy for the middle class, lower health care costs, combat climate change, rebuild crumbling roads and bridges, make college more affordable, and reduce gun violence in our nation.”

Added Lynch, “I fully support these priorities laid out by President Obama tonight and look forward to working with him to make this bold vision a reality.”

Lynch’s opponent in the April Democratic primary for Kerry’s former seat, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Malden, sought to highlight the issue of gun control by inviting as his guest to the State of the Union address a Massachusetts mother whose son had been the fatal victim of an accidental shooting.

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