Michele Bachmann was the only Republican to give a formal, full-length rebuttal to President Obama's jobs speech Thursday night, although House Majority Leader Eric Cantor spoke briefly to Bloomberg TV.
House Speaker John Boehner said on Wednesday that the Republicans did not plan to respond -- triggering a scathing response from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who said the lack of a rebuttal would speak volumes about their lack of commitment to creating jobs. But unlike Boehner, Bachmann -- a Minnesota congresswoman and a presidential candidate -- had nothing to lose. She trails Rick Perry and Mitt Romney in all major polls released in the past three weeks, and some polls show her behind fellow Tea Party leader Sarah Palin, who is not even an official candidate at this point. On Thursday though, she was for once alone in the spotlight, and she is undoubtedly hoping it will boost her campaign.
In her rebuttal, she dismissed much of Obama's speech, saying it didn't offer anything new. (Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said the same, noting sarcastically, While he put forward a few ideas that merit a closer look, much of the speech felt like the movie 'Groundhog Day.') Bachmann also reiterated that she did not believe the government could create jobs at all. The solution to high unemployment, she said, is free-market, pro-growth policies, but she did not fully elaborate on that.
Cantor, however, struck a conciliatory note. In a brief interview with Bloomberg TV, he said that while Republicans and Democrats have serious disagreements over how to create jobs, Congress shouldn't let the differences get in the way of where we can work together.
In a brief statement released after the speech, Boehner reacted similarly. The proposals the President outlined tonight merit consideration. We hope he gives serious consideration to our ideas as well, he said. It's my hope that we can work together to end the uncertainty facing families and small businesses, and create a better environment for long-term economic growth and private-sector job creation.
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Cantor said Republicans would support anything that can provide incentives for entrepreneurs to put capital to work. He mentioned a 2009 Republican plan to reduce taxes for small businesses and said that in listening to Obama's speech, he heard some provisions and proposals that could very well match our goals toward that end.
But he was quick to emphasize that he would not accept an all-or-nothing jobs plan from the White House that Congress could either take or leave -- the type of plan Obama indicated in his speech.
The reality is, people can disagree. Republicans and Democrats are not going to agree on everything, he told Bloomberg. Set aside this notion the President suggested that it's a take-it-or-leave-it package. We can work on the areas of commonality.
Obama's speech contained few surprises. Most of his proposals were ones he had previously suggested, and some of them have a shot at bipartisan support, as Cantor implied. Some -- namely, extending a payroll tax cut -- have even already been endorsed by Republican legislators.
Pass this jobs bill, and starting tomorrow, small businesses will get a tax cut if they hire new workers or raise workers' wages, Obama told a joint session of Congress on Thursday night. Pass this jobs bill, and all small business owners will also see their payroll taxes cut in half next year. If you have 50 employees making an average salary, that's an $80,000 tax cut. And all businesses will be able to continue writing off the investments they make in 2012.
There were also some more controversial -- albeit not unexpected -- proposals, like the one Obama has made many times to an unyielding Republican bloc: reducing tax breaks for wealthy Americans.
There are many Republicans who don't believe we should raise taxes on those who are most fortunate and can best afford it, he said. But here is what every American knows. While most people in this country struggle to make ends meet, a few of the most affluent citizens and corporations enjoy tax breaks and loopholes that nobody else gets. Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary -- an outrage he has asked us to fix.
Then he gave Congress what was essentially an ultimatum. Should we keep tax loopholes for oil companies? Or should we use that money to give small business owners a tax credit when they hire new workers? Because we can't afford to do both. Should we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires? Or should we put teachers back to work so our kids can graduate ready for college and good jobs? Right now, we can't afford to do both, he said. This isn't political grandstanding. This isn't class warfare. This is simple math.
But when Bloomberg TV asked Cantor what he thought of giving wealthy Americans fewer tax breaks, he gave a one-line response: Republicans don't believe in raising taxes for anybody.