By Elizabeth Bewley
President Barack Obama's $447 billion jobs plan received a lukewarm reaction from Tennessee's lawmakers Thursday night.
Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville said the president "made a good high-energy speech to get America back on track," but the state's Republican lawmakers reacted more critically.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, said the president's policies "have thrown a big, wet blanket over job creation in this country, and unfortunately, I didn't hear much in his speech tonight that will change that."
Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher of Frog Jump said he was "disappointed this evening to hear that the president's plan to tackle unemployment rates was largely more of the same."
And Republican Rep. Phil Roe of Johnson City called the address "very partisan. I saw a lot of finger-pointing in our direction during that speech," he said.
Republicans likened the plan to the Obama administration's $825 billion stimulus bill passed in 2009, which they say failed to lower the nation's unemployment rate or create lasting economic growth.
"I don't hold the president responsible for the economy he inherited, but I do think it's fair to hold him responsible for making the economy worse," Alexander said.
Obama's plan would cut in half the 6.2 percent payroll tax paid by workers and employers, extend unemployment benefits and make infrastructure improvements.
Some parts of Obama's plan may appeal to Republicans who support infrastructure advancement, international trade agreements and tax cuts.
Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais of South Pittsburg said the president "mentioned a lot of things we've agreed with and pushed all along, including preserving Medicare and lowering corporate tax rates."
DesJarlais, Alexander and other Republicans stood and applauded when Obama mentioned cutting corporate tax rates, reforming entitlement programs and advancing pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.
Need more specifics
But DesJarlais said he needs to see more specifics about how the president would pay for his plan.
"Shouldering the burden on the job creators -- the people he refers to as millionaires and billionaires -- they're already paying the lion's share of taxes, and taxing them more is going to hurt jobs, not help create them," he said.
Roe said the president "just barely touched on" important GOP talking points such as lowering energy prices, reforming the tax code and reducing regulations.
Obama mentioned regulatory reform during the speech but said he wouldn't touch "basic protections" such as the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed rule to limit mercury emissions from power plants.
That may not be enough for Tennessee Republicans such as Reps. Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn, who had said that regulatory relief should be a major focus of the speech.
Blackburn invited as her guest Henry Juskiewicz, CEO of Nashville-based Gibson Guitar Corp., which is under investigation by the Justice Department for allegedly importing wood illegally.
"Maybe if the president spent more time finding real solutions to empowering small business owners and less time hindering businesses like Gibson, we'd see more new jobs being created," she said.