Obama's State of the Union Address Will Focus on Jobs, Economy

Photo Courtesy - The White House/Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- Most State of the Union addresses cover a wide array of issues important to the public.  This year, President Obama will focus predominantly on creating jobs and improving the economy.

Describing the upcoming State of the Union address next Tuesday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that reducing spending and putting the nation's "fiscal house in order" will be the centerpiece of the speech.

Gibbs said Obama will be looking for ways "to increase our competitiveness and our innovation that allows us to create the jobs of tomorrow."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Fourteen Freshman Republicans Turn Away Federal Health Benefits

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Fourteen of the 85 new Republican lawmakers who were sworn in just weeks ago have declined federal health benefits, opting instead for alternative plans.

Like some of his colleagues, Rep. Richard Nugent, R-Fla., says he felt uneasy at the idea of taxpayers subsidizing his health benefits, even though switching over to a federal plan would have saved him about $9,000 a year. Instead, Nugent, a former sheriff, opted to continue getting health insurance through the COBRA plan, a relatively expensive health plan that employers are required to provide for their former workers for a certain period of time.

Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., another newcomer, said it was a difficult decision for him to waive his health insurance, considering his wife has a pre-existing condition, which can get costly when purchasing private coverage. The decision was made only partly because of the new health care law. Walsh pledged during his campaign that he wouldn't take federal health insurance when members were debating whether to exempt federal health insurance from the new law. But the bigger reason was his own personal philosophy.

Another freshman lawmaker, Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Penn., also opted to stay with the health insurance he'd had as an auto dealership owner, simply because "he likes what he has and he's happy to stay on it," an aide for the congressman told ABC News.

The 14 members of Congress who have waived federal health insurance are all Republican and include Reps. Guinta; Walsh; Nugent; Sandy Adams, R-Fla.; Bob Dold, R-Ill.; Chris Gibson, R-N.Y.; Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.; Nan Hayworth, R-.N.Y.; Bill Johnson, R-Ohio; Mike Kelly, R-Penn.; David McKinley, R-W.Va.; Scott Rigell, R-Va.; Bobby Schilling, R-Ill. and Daniel Webster, R-Fla.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


GOP Lawmakers Unveil $2.5 Trillion Spending Cuts Package

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Less than a week before President Obama is set to deliver his State of the Union address next Tuesday, a group of House Republicans introduced a proposal Friday to cut spending from more than 100 federal programs and cut back spending levels by $2.5 trillion over the next decade.

The bill, known as the Spending Reduction Act, would hold non-security discretionary spending for fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2008 levels, and freeze non-defense discretionary spending to fiscal year 2006 levels for a 10-year budget window -- saving almost $2.3 trillion over the next 10 years, according to the Republican Study Committee.

The national debt has nearly doubled over the past four years from $8.6 trillion to $14 trillion.  Compared to current projections from the Congressional Budget Office, Jordan said the bill would save taxpayers an estimated $2.5 trillion through 2021.

Rep. Scott Garrett of New Jersey said the legislation fulfills the GOP’s pledge to cut spending back to 2008 levels and would also return $45 billion from the stimulus bill that has not yet been spent.

At the start of FY 2012, spending is cut back to 2006 levels and frozen for the next 10 years.  To help achieve these savings, the bill shrinks the size and cost of the civilian federal workforce and specifically targets over 100 budget items and spending reforms, according to the committee.

The bill would save $30 billion by eliminating federal control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and would save about $80 billion by prohibiting any fiscal year 2011 funding from being spent to implement any provisions in the health care law that was repealed in the House Wednesday.

The measure would also eliminate automatic pay increases for civilian federal workers for five years and would cut the civilian workforce by 15 percent through attrition -- permitting the hiring of only one new worker for every two workers who leave the federal workforce until the reduction target has been met.

House Democrats largely rejected the plan, arguing that the proposed cuts only create more unemployment while jeopardizing the economic recovery.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Honors a President 'Who Showed Us What Is Possible' 

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- On the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, President Obama said were it not for “unfinished life” and “vision” of the nation’s 35th president, he would not be standing up as the 44th president.

“We cannot forget we are the heirs of this president who showed us what is possible,” President Obama said from the Kennedy Center Thursday evening. “Because of his vision, more people prospered, more people served, our union was made more perfect.  Because of that vision, I can stand here tonight as president of the United States.”

The president said that he knows JFK less as a man and more as an icon. The memories of Kennedy’s inauguration he learned through the adoration of others.

“I confess, I don’t have my own memories of that day," President Obama said. "I wasn’t born until later that year.  What I know of that day and the 1,000 days that followed -- what I know of President Kennedy -- came from a mother and grandparents who adored him; from books I read and classes I took; from growing up in a country still mourning its beloved leader whose name was spoken with reverence.”

The president said that so often people born into wealth, like Kennedy, could easily seek a life of luxury and ease -- but not Kennedy.

“He chose a life of leadership," the president said, "fired not by naïve optimism, but committed realism; ‘idealism,’ as his wife Jackie put it, ‘without illusions.’  That is the idealism -- soaring but sober -- that inspired the country and the world one half century ago.”

As the president marked the anniversary, he also noted with sadness the passing of Sargent Shriver.

“His legacy is written in the villages around the world that have clean water or a new school through the Peace Corps,” Obama said. “It’s written into the lives of all the children in our own country whose fortunes have been lifted through Head Start.  And it will endure in the work of his children who are living out his legacy of service -- and our thoughts and prayers are with them tonight.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Iowa Social Conservative Group Says They Can’t Reach Mitt Romney

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Leaders of a prominent social conservative group in Iowa that is organizing a series of forums with potential GOP presidential candidates said that they have been getting the cold shoulder from Mitt Romney.

The Family Leader announced on Thursday that former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will headline the first installment of its Presidential Lecture Series on Feb. 7 and that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and businessman Herman Cain will also take part in the series over the next few months.

The group also invited former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential candidate, was not listed as one of the invitees.

“We have made several attempts to reach Gov. Romney or those close to him in order to extend an invitation to our Presidential Lecture Series.  None of those attempts have been successful as of today,” said the group’s spokesman Chris Nitzschke.

Political observers have been speculating about whether Romney, who finished second behind Huckabee in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, would skip the state altogether in 2012. He has traveled infrequently to the state since his presidential bid -- a contrast to some of his potential competitors like Pawlenty and Gingrich who have spent considerable time in the Hawkeye State in recent months.

Romney’s office did not respond to a request for comment, but his approach to the Family Leader event is likely to set off renewed speculation about how seriously he plans to compete in the state.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Hawaii Gov. Says Proof of Obama's Birth Certificate Exists

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(HONOLULU) -- Officials in Hawaii say they have located President Obama's birth certificate indicating that he was born in the state, but have yet to produce the document at the heart of a long-simmering conspiracy theory.

"Our investigation is showing, it actually exists in the archives written down," Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie told Honolulu's Star-Advertiser.

"What I can do, and all I have ever said, is that I am going to see to it as governor that I can verify to anyone who is honest about it that this is the case," he told the paper.

Abercrombie said the controversy over publicly producing the document "has a political implication for 2012 that we simply cannot have."

It remains unclear if the document found in the archives was Obama's actual long-form birth certificate, which "birther" activists have clamored for, or if it was simply a record that such a document exists.

Since the 2008 election, conspiracy theorists and political opponents have suggested the president was not actually born in Hawaii and is therefore not a U.S. citizen eligible for the office.

The newly elected Democrat governor, and a college friend of Obama's parents, vowed soon after taking office in December that he would track down the birth certificate and lay the rumors to rest.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


GOP Lawmakers Unveil $2.5-Trillion Spending Cuts Package

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Less than a week before President Obama is set to deliver his State of the Union address next Tuesday, a group of House Republicans Thursday introduced a proposal to cut spending from more than 100 federal programs and cut back spending levels by $2.5 trillion over the next decade.

The bill, known as the Spending Reduction Act, would hold non-security discretionary spending for Fiscal Year 2011 to FY 2008 levels, and freeze non-defense discretionary spending to FY 2006 levels for a 10-year budget window -- saving almost $2.3 trillion over the next 10 years, according to the Republican Study Committee (RSC).

Rep. Jim Jordan, Chairman of the RSC, said if the Congress does not act soon to make serious cuts to spending, the growing national debt could spark a new financial crisis.

The national debt has nearly doubled over the past four years, from $8.6 trillion to $14 trillion. Compared to current projections from the Congressional Budget Office, Jordan said the bill would save taxpayers an estimated $2.5 trillion through 2021.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Boehner: Permanently Ban Federal Abortion Funding

Photo Courtesy - Bill Clark/Roll Call via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Speaker of the House John Boehner expressed support Thursday morning for a new bill that would permanently ban federal funding for abortions and called the measure one of the House’s “top legislative priorities” in the 112th Congress.

Boehner, R-Ohio, said that by enacting the ban, House Republicans would fulfill a promise from the Pledge to America to “[ensure] that tax dollars are never used to fund elective abortions.”

“A ban on taxpayer funding of abortions is the will of the people, and it ought to be the will of the land,” Boehner said. “The current law, particularly as enforced by this administration, does not reflect the will of the American people. Last year, we listened to the American people through America Speaking Out. They spoke on this issue loudly and clearly. So we have included it in our Pledge, and today we're making good on that commitment.”

Boehner said the legislation, known as the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, would codify the Hyde Amendment and other similar policies by permanently applying a ban on taxpayer funding of abortions across all federal programs.

“This common sense legislation reflects the will of the people and deserves the support of the House,” Boehner said. “It's one of our highest legislative priorities, and as such, I've directed that it receive the designation of H.R. 3.”

Rep. Chris Smith, who introduced the bill, said the measure would also address conscience protection for health care personnel to ensure that anyone opposed to abortion is not forced to participate or assist in the procedure.

“Our legislation also includes a very important conscience protection to empower the courts to ensure that conscience objectors -- doctors, hospitals, health care networks, individual health care personnel -- are not forced to participate in the taking of a human life,” Smith, R-New Jersey, said. “H.R. 3 really reflects [Boehner’s] and our profound commitment to respecting the sanctity of human life and getting rid of and making permanent -- getting rid of taxpayer funding for abortion like in the District of Columbia.”

“President Obama has said that he wants abortion to be rare,” Smith added. “If we want fewer abortions, take away the federal subsidy.”

When Boehner said that the bill would “make clear that taxpayer funding of elective abortions will not be the policy of this government,” he was asked why there is a need for the legislation if there is a safeguard already in place?

“They claim that it is, but we had an opportunity during the health care debate [last year] to include the Stupak language, which would have made clear in law that taxpayer funding of elective abortion is prohibited. That was -- that did not occur, and clearly, there's an awful lot of doubt as to where the administration really is on this issue,” Boehner said. “The will of the people is that we enact this clear-cut prohibition on the use of taxpayer funds for elective abortions.”

Reps. Joe Pitts, R-Penn., and Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., are expected to soon introduce their own separate legislation to specifically prohibit any funding from the health care law from funding abortions.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


No Apology Here: Congressman Cohen Defends Nazi Comment

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Congressman Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., says he has no intention of apologizing for comparing Republican rhetoric with Nazi propaganda.

“I didn’t say anything that deserves an apology or requires an apology,” Cohen told ABC News.  “I would never refer to Republican colleagues in an untoward way, I was talking about political propaganda.”

Cohen’s comments on the House floor – where he said Republican arguments on health care were “a big lie just like Goebbels” and “like blood libel” that led to the holocaust -- were condemned by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

“No matter how strong one’s objections to any policy or to the tactics of political opponents, invoking the Holocaust and the Nazi effort to exterminate the Jewish people is offensive and has no place in a civil political discourse,” said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman in a statement issued in response to Cohen’s statement.

“I respect Mr. Foxman greatly, we have a little difference on how we see this,” Cohen said.  “I wasn’t talking about the political philosophy or even the actions that resulted in the actions of the Holocaust, I was talking about the political propaganda, which is somewhat separate, but I understand Mr. Foxman’s sensitivities and I’m sorry that he and other people of the Jewish faith could have been offended.”

Does that mean Cohen is sorry for what he said?  Not quite.

“I’m sorry that people were offended,” Cohen said.  “I’m not sorry for what I said.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


The Obama Re-Election Effort Begins

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- White House officials tell ABC News that President Obama is closing the political office of the White House as he re-tools and prepares for the 2012 re-election campaign.

These changes include:

* Having his 2012 re-election HQ in Chicago (a search for office space in downtown Chi-town has begun)
* Filing papers with the Federal Election Commission to formally declare his candidacy in March or so
* Assigning soon-to-be-leaving White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina to be campaign manager
* Appointing as deputy campaign managers current White House social secretary Julianna Smoot (finance director of the 2008 campaign), and executive director of the Democratic National Committee Jennifer O’Malley Dillon who focused on battleground states in 2008. Smoot will focus on finances while Dillon focuses on field operations
* Moving current White House political director Patrick Gaspard to run the DNC (Tim Kaine will remain chairman) with the DNC assuming the role of the White House political office

Messina, in addition to looking for office space, has started talking to fundraisers and lining up consultants; outgoing White House senior adviser David Axelrod and outgoing press secretary Robert Gibbs will serve as two of those consultants.

White House senior adviser David Plouffe will be the key liaison between the campaign and the White House.

“There’s not going to be two dueling power centers,” Plouffe told the New York Times, which first reported the news. “The philosophy of this campaign will not be that the White House is somehow running the campaign. The people running the campaign are in charge of the campaign. That’s the way the president wants it. We’ll do it in a coordinated way, but they’re running this thing.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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