Iowa’s five congressmen and two U.S. senators agree President Obama laid out the challenges the country faces in his speech last night. Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat, says he found Obama’s approach “refreshing.”
“It’s nice to have a president who levels with us and the American people and treats us like adults,” Harkin says “I think he laid out the problems that we’re facing and gave us the encouragement to move ahead.”
Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, says Obama has tried to change the tone in Washington, but Obama provided few specifics in his speech. “I think we know that Obama’s a political genius. We have to find out whether he’s a policy genius and that’s going to take time,” Grassley says. “I guess he wouldn’t have to be a policy genius and can still be a very good president.”
Congressman Bruce Braley, a Democrat from Waterloo, says the speech was a “call to action” that the country needed to hear. “He’s challenging us to keep moving and moving forward on health care reform, energy independence and modernizing education — even while we’re struggling with these enormous economic challenges,” Braley says.
While Congressman Tom Latham — a Republican from Ames — has some concerns about Obama’s tax plans and foreign policy objectives, Latham says Obama struck the right tone last night. “The president was, I think, quite positive (in) talking about the country succeeding in these difficult times,” Latham says. “…I just want to work with the president on a bipartisan basis and, hopefully, we can help the country succeed.”
Iowa Congressman Steve King, a Republican from Kiron, jokes that if he believed in what Obama believes in, he’d be “feeling pretty good” after the speech. “But on the other side of this equation is we’re borrowing on our children and grandchildren’s future on the belief that spending government money, which is really taxpayer money, is somehow going to stimulate our economy and I didn’t hear that explained,” King says.
Congressman Dave Loebsack, a Democrat from Mount Vernon, says Obama’s speech was appropriately focused on the future. “Not only focusing on the immediate crisis, but how to move the country forward with investments — as was mentioned — in education, health care and energy,” Loebsack says.
Congressman Leonard Boswell, a Democrat from Des Moines, says he found Obama’s speech inspirational. “The sincerity came across,” Boswell says. “I’ve heard him say it at least three times in the last two weeks, ‘I’d rather get our country back on its sound footing and be a one-term president than I would be to kick the can on down the road.'”
In terms of specifics, Obama called for ending large “agribusiness subsidies” and Senator Harkin — the chairman of the Senate Ag Committee — says he agrees “whole-heartedly” that “giant agribusinesses” shouldn’t be getting federal subsidies. “I have been opposed to this direct payment program ever since it was first started,” Harkin says. “We just never had the votes to change it over and maybe — hopefully, now, with the backing of this president — we can end those.”
Grassley, a member of the Senate Ag Committee, has no qualms about that proposal either. “I think what (Obama’s) getting at is 10 percent of the biggest farmers getting 72 percent of the benefits out of the farm program and that’s compromising the purpose of the farm program,” Grassley says. Grassley says Obama’s limits would be no more groundbreaking than Grassley’s owns proposal which would set a 250-thousand dollar cap on farm payments to individual farmers.
Both senators and all five congressmen spoke by telephone with Radio Iowa last night after the president’s speech.