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October 5, 2015

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State of the Union:

Obama pleads for cooperation in Congress, but can Nevada delegation comply?



Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., left, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada arrive on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 12, 2013, for President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington.

State of the Union

President Barack Obama is greeted before his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Feb. 12, 2013. Launch slideshow »

As President Barack Obama laid out his policy proposals on a spectrum of different issues, he returned to a common theme: Congress should come together to turn plans into reality.

“America moves forward only when we do so together,” Obama said, “The responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.”

But in the wake of the speech, it was clear that while there is some room for cooperation, there are still many areas where lawmakers fundamentally disagree.

With three Democrats and three Republicans evenly distributed across the Senate and House, Nevada’s six-man delegation is about as politically balanced a spectrum of lawmakers as a state can get in Washington.

Some found common cause to celebrate when Obama repeated his call for a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a pathway to citizenship.

“Sitting next to [Republican] Sen. [Dean] Heller, he and I stood up together when the president said ‘now is the time,’” Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford said. “He leaned over and said: ‘Looks like we got consensus on that one.'”

Republicans and Democrats from the Nevada delegation also warmed to various aspects of the president’s proposals on education.

“I liked the idea of controlling post-secondary education costs by trying to make sure affordability and value are taken into account,” Republican Rep. Joe Heck said. Heck added that he also liked the idea of getting high schoolers “trained for the jobs of the future,” commenting that he’d been a longtime supporter of workforce investment as well.

Horsford and Democratic Rep. Dina Titus excitedly embraced both of those proposals, as well as Obama’s call for federal-state partnerships to make sure that pre-school education is available to children across the country.

“A focus on early childhood and a focus on making our graduates ready to compete is something everybody should be able to get behind,” Horsford said. “I’m looking forward to working with our Legislature, since it’s in session now, to get Nevada positioned for that.”

The Nevada Legislature is currently considering a proposal to make full-day kindergarten available in more communities. It is being pushed by Gov. Brian Sandoval — but the effort is one that started, almost a decade ago, with Titus.

“That was my bill many years ago, so I’m very supportive of [early childhood education],” Titus said. “And if there’s federal funds now to help with that, I think that will give the state a boost.”

But the delegation was sharply divided on some of Obama’s boldest plans, and some of the country’s most pressing matters.

Obama doubled down on his call for more concerted action on climate change, endorsing the Lieberman-McCain cap-and-trade bill that failed to muster enough support in the Senate to pass several years ago.

“If they are truly concerned about investing in energy, approve the Keystone pipeline,” Heck said, referring to a pipeline that, if permits are approved by the Obama administration, would stretch from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. “The energy part of his speech I think was just new variations on an old theme.”

But Democrats in the delegation rallied to support the president, no matter how much resistance there might be from across the aisle.

“I think he’s absolutely right about global warming,” Titus said.

The delegation was also bitterly split in its reception of the president’s lengthy explanation of his plans to tackle the looming onset of sequestration cuts and future budgeting challenges.

While Democrats supported the president’s call to offset cuts with some renegotiated combination of spending cuts and tax hikes, Republicans cried foul.

“This talk about closing loopholes and deductions ... he wanted to tax the rich, and he got it,” Heck said, complaining that Obama was moving the fiscal goalpost on the Republican Party.

The delegation did, however, agree on one common area of discontent: Many found varying degrees of fault with the extent of Obama’s housing plan. Noting that the housing market was improving, the president called on Congress to pass pending legislation to save homeowners up to $3,000 a year by refinancing, to help the trend continue.

“It concerned me that he said the housing market is healing,” Heck said, remarking that Nevada’s hardest-hit housing market was still too damaged to be helped by the president’s plan. Heck has advocated federal help to bring down monthly mortgage costs, but has not supported spending money on aggressive principal reduction.

Horsford, who has supported the idea of principal reduction, also was somewhat frustrated that the president’s proposal wouldn’t make more of a dent in Nevada.

“I’m not satisfied that we are doing enough in that regard,” Horsford said, promising “to be one that will continue to challenge this president and our administration to do more when it comes to housing. They know how hard we’ve been hit.”

Titus was slightly more generous in her estimation of the president’s proposal, allowing that since the housing market in Las Vegas had improved somewhat, the refinancing proposal might have merit. But she reserved judgment until she had the chance to “look at it more.”

A spokesman for Nevada Republican Rep. Mark Amodei did not return requests for an interview. Sens. Heller and Harry Reid declined to comment on specific questions about the president’s agenda, releasing statements through their offices instead.

“Tonight and in past addresses, President Obama has made promises about reducing our growing $16 trillion debt and bringing fiscal responsibility to Washington. To date, those have been empty promises,” Heller said in a written statement. “I hope this time the president is finally serious about reducing long-term spending and debt and working with members of both sides of the aisle on solutions that can pass Congress.”

“Obama delivered a clear vision for strengthening the middle class and creating a foundation for long-term growth. The president outlined an agenda in which fairness is not just a principle for which to strive, but a powerful engine of growth and prosperity for all Americans,” Reid said in a written statement. “Senate Democrats stand ready to work with him to make his agenda a reality.”

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