President Barack Obama's plan to increase taxes and fees on Wall Street and the nation's wealthiest Americans ran into a solid wall of opposition Tuesday from Texas Republicans at the State of the Union address.
The plan, pitched as a way to provide middle-class tax relief for the middle class, had a familiar ring to many Texans' ears. Few on either side of the aisle held out much hope for diminished partisanship in the new Congress.
"Tonight, we heard about new plans for more of these same failed policies," said Houston Republican John Culberson. "His tax-and-spend agenda will add to our unaccountable federal bureaucracy … That isn't what Americans deserve."
Culberson laid out an alternative set of well-known GOP priorities, including the repeal of the president's health care overhaul, blocking his executive orders on immigration, and reining in government spending.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Republican whip, took to the Senate floor in advance of the speech to take aim at the president's tax proposals, which the White House first floated over the weekend.
"Sadly, the president has doubled down on the same agenda, which in his own words was on the ballot this last fall and was soundly rejected," Cornyn said. "I think I speak for many Americans and many Texans when I say, Mr. President, enough is enough."
Cornyn held out Texas as an economic model, a familiar refrain in the state's GOP. "Many policy makers in Washington seem to have forgotten the secret sauce - the formula, the recipe - by which strong, sustainable economic growth … lifts up the middle class," he said. "In my state, we have reduced taxes, we have cut red tape in favor of sensible regulations and we have encouraged businesses to come to Texas to grow and create jobs."
Texas Democrats in the House delegation fired back. "In stark contrast to the president's economic vision for working families," said Houston Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee, "House Republicans will advance old proposals that are more special interest giveaways for corporate and wealthy interests."
Other Democrats countered that Obama was offering a starting point for talks on a fairer and simplified tax code. "If the Republican majority decides they don't want to have comprehensive tax reform in a bipartisan effort, then that will be their decision," said Houston Democrat Gene Green. "But the president is saying this is what he would like to see to close that disparity in income. They may say it's dead on arrival, but if they're serious about it, then I'd be glad to work with them."
Rep. Kevin Brady of The Woodlands, a senior Republican on the tax writing House Ways and Means Committee, warned that Obama's tax plans could slow the economy. "I predict the president's stale, outdated demands for higher taxes won't create a single new job, grow the paycheck of even one middle class family or help one more college graduate start their career," Brady said. "We need to focus on growing our local economy, not Washington's."
Texas Republicans also accused Obama of dividing Americans. "What we heard tonight was the latest installment of six years of failure," said Sugar Land Republican Pete Olson. "Instead of uniting all Americans, our president again kept marching to the same class warfare pitting one group of Americans against another in a push for political advantage."
Olson also attacked the president for blocking or delaying construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a priority for the Lone Star state's oil and gas industry.
Texas Republicans vowed to follow their own party's path instead. "His out-of-touch policies and empty rhetoric were rejected last November by voters and nothing he said tonight will change that," said Austin Republican Michael McCaul. "In the coming weeks and months, I will do all I can to ensure Congress is providing the leadership that the American people deserve."
"Republicans have a different plan in mind," said Friendswood Republican Randy Weber. "Our plan will reduce government intrusion and let our job creators thrive without fear of red-tape and regulatory uncertainty."
Whether that leaves any room for common ground remains to be seen. Centrist Democrat Henry Cuellar of Laredo vowed to keep an open mind: "Ultimately, speeches are just words," he said. "I stand ready and willing to back those words up with action by working with the president, Democrats, and Republicans who will help fight for what Texans need."
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