Republicans blast Obama speech as more of the same

Republican lawmakers slammed President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech Tuesday for not tackling the nation's budget crisis, saying he only offered bigger government and more spending.

One after the other, Republican senators and congressmen expressed disappointment with the litany of new programs Obama mentioned -- from education and infrastructure to manufacturing and tax reform -- saying he failed to explain how the country would pay for them.

Obama "missed an opportunity to try to connect with members on my side of the aisle and many in the country who recognize we have a serious problem with out of control government spending," Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told AFP after the one-hour speech to Congress.

Many of the 500-plus lawmakers rose to their feet at least 23 times in ovations for the president as he hit on various themes, including ending the war in Afghanistan, reforming the tax code and overcoming partisan gridlock.

But Obama's soaring rhetoric appeared to have done little to span the partisan divide that has hindered major legislation in recent years.

"Not impressive," sniffed Republican Tim Scott, one of two African-American senators currently in the chamber.

"It sounds like we have endless streams of cash coming from somewhere," Scott added. "It's remarkable to think the wish list can be accomplished without actually seeing higher revenues."

Conservative congressman Raul Labrador put it succinctly: "Probably one of the worst speeches I've ever heard the president give," he winced to AFP.

Obama was disjointed and unfocused, Labrador said, adding that the president only became emotional near the end when he addressed the need to reduce gun violence.

"I thought it lacked inspiration," he added.

One area where he and several other Republicans, including Senator Rob Portman and congressman Cory Gardner, offered positive feedback was on immigration.

The president has proposed a comprehensive immigration reform package, as has a bipartisan "gang of eight" senators, and lawmakers Tuesday night were optimistic that a deal could pass through Congress this year.

The linchpin of any such deal would be freshman Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American and rising star from Florida widely tipped as a 2016 presidential candidate, who laid out the framework of his party's economic vision in the official Republican response to Obama's speech.

"The tax increases and the deficit spending you propose will hurt middle class families," Rubio said, as he urged Obama to "abandon his obsession with raising taxes and instead work with us to achieve real growth in our economy."

Republicans are smarting from their election defeat, when Americans largely rejected their austerity push and Obama handily won the Hispanic and the youth vote.

The 41-year-old Rubio touched on his own immigrant roots -- and delivered his speech in both English and Spanish -- to drive home the message that conservative politics can have broad appeal.

"Mr President, I still live in the same working class neighborhood I grew up in. My neighbors aren't millionaires," Rubio said.

"They're retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare. They're workers who have to get up early tomorrow morning and go to work to pay the bills," he added.

"They're immigrants who came here because they were stuck in poverty in countries where the government dominated the economy."

Republican Senator Rand Paul, who offered the Tea Party response, was more blunt about his party's need to tap into minority voters.

"We are the party that embraces hard work and ingenuity, therefore we must be the party that embraces the immigrant who wants to come to America for a better future," Paul said.

"We must be the party who sees immigrants as assets, not liabilities."

But Rubio was the Republican most people were talking about late Tuesday, after an impromptu and bizarre incident during his televised speech which left many observers scratching their heads.

In the middle of his speech, Rubio leaned nearly out of the frame, picked up a bottle of Poland Spring water and seemed to take a furtive sip before anxiously returning to his comments.

Social media and the Twitter world exploded, with several parodies of the water sip popping up within minutes and critics suggesting the awkward move damaged his image.