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GOP responds to Obama speech — and then Tea Party weighs in

Barack Obama was blamed for plunging the country into deeper debt in the Republican response to his address, but a separate Tea Party message hinted at the party's divisions.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Barack Obama was blamed for plunging the country into deeper debt in the GOP response to his State of the Union address, but a separate Tea Party message given by Michele Bachmann hinted at the party's divisions.

While Bachmann's comments were similar to those made by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., some Republican officials privately expressed anger at the unusual move.

Bachmann said her address wasn't intended to compete with Ryan's.

Ryan urged Obama to give up on new spending programs and "endless borrowing" by joining the GOP in a drive to wrestle the federal budget deficit under control.

"There is no doubt the president came into office facing a severe fiscal and economic situation," he said. "Unfortunately, instead of restoring the fundamentals of economic growth, he engaged in a stimulus spending spree that not only failed to deliver on its promise to create jobs, but also plunged us even deeper into debt."

Obama's call for a freeze on the annual operating budgets of most domestic agencies doesn't go far enough for Republicans. And the GOP remained deeply skeptical of Obama's plan for investments in education, infrastructure, and research and development.

"Our nation is approaching a tipping point. We are at a moment, where if government's growth is left unchecked and unchallenged, America's best century will be considered our past century," Ryan said.

"This is a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency. Depending on bureaucracy to foster innovation, competitiveness, and wise consumer choices has never worked — and it won't work now. We need to chart a new course," he added.

No prior approval that Ryan's speech was made with the blessing of the GOP's leadership, but that aides said Bachmann had not shown a copy of her statement to them in advance.

However, her speech echoed many of Ryan's speaking points in an address that was designed to be broadcast on the Tea Party Express's website. That changed when CNN decided to carry them live.

She said that deficits "exploded under President Obama's direction" and urged tax cuts as well as a repeal of the health care law, which she derisively called "ObamaCare."

"America will have the highest corporate tax rate in the world. Look no further to see why jobs are moving overseas," Bachmann said.

"But, thanks to you (Tea Party supporters), there's reason to hope that real spending cuts are coming. Last November you went to the polls and voted out big-spending politicians and you put in their place men and women with a commitment to follow the Constitution and cut the size of government," she added.

"Last November you went to the polls and voted out big-spending politicians and you put in their place men and women with a commitment to follow the Constitution and cut the size of government," she said. "I believe that we are in the early days of a history-making turn."

Bachmann narrowly avoided a major gaffe in her speech.

Excerpts released in advance called on Obama to "commit himself to signing" a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget.

The Constitution gives the president no role in amendments, which go directly to the states for ratification after Congress approves them.

Her full remarks, released a few hours after the excerpts, dropped the reference to a signing and merely urged Obama to support the amendment.

After her speech, Bachmann told NBC News' Brian Williams that her speech was "nothing to do with competition" with Ryan's speech and said the media had created the idea that there was.

"Actually I thought Paul Ryan did a wonderful job," she told Williams when asked what was it about Ryan's speech that was "less than satisfying" and meant she had to give a Tea Party version.

She said that "we all go to the microphones" to speak to people across the country about the State of the Union address.

In other remarks, Ryan said Obama's stimulus — even if "repackaged" as "investment" — showed the Democrats wanted a federal government "that controls too much; taxes too much; and spends too much in order to do too much."

"And during the last two years, that is exactly what we have gotten — along with record deficits and debt ... Endless borrowing is not a strategy; spending cuts have to come first," Ryan said.

President Obama urges cooperation and innovation

He will be the point man in the new House GOP majority's drive to rein in spending and bring the budget closer to balance.

Tuesday's speech was the highest profile assignment yet for a wonky former congressional staff aide who has evolved into one of his party's brightest stars.

Ryan is best known for a controversial budget plan brimming with politically unpopular ideas like gradually turning Medicare into a voucher program, curbing Social Security benefits and allowing younger workers to divert Social Security taxes into private accounts.

He says such tough steps are needed, given intractable budget deficits that threaten America's prosperity.

'Skeptical of both parties'
"Americans are skeptical of both political parties, and that skepticism is justified — especially when it comes to spending," Ryan said.

"So hold all of us accountable. In this very room, the House will produce, debate, and advance a budget. ... We owe you a better choice and a different vision ... to show you how we intend to do things differently, how we will cut spending to get the debt down, help create jobs and prosperity, and reform government programs," he said.

Ryan's plan, the "Roadmap for America," is so politically toxic that GOP campaign operatives urged candidates to shy away from it.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said earlier Tuesday that Ryan "owes it to the national audience tonight to explain why he wants to privatize Social Security and Medicare."

"Tonight's speech should have been called a State of the Stimulus, and the President should have admitted that it failed," said Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of S.C. in a written statement.

"Two years after the president's nearly trillion-dollar government stimulus, unemployment has increased and remains high, families and businesses are still struggling, and our national debt continues to skyrocket."

Obama made his speech before a House chamber packed with tea party-backed GOP freshmen elected with a determination to slash spending and thwart the president's agenda.