GOP Letter to the President Offers Solutions, but Not the Kind Obama Wants

GOP letter
Top Republicans try to highlight bipartisan goals, but feature bills stalled by Democrats in the Senate Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

House Republican leadership sent a letter to President Obama on Thursday morning outlining the areas of his State of the Union speech where they have found “potential for agreement.”

"Naturally, we don't agree with all the proposals outlined in your speech," reads the letter from House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), who gave one of the three GOP responses to the State of the Union on Tuesday night.

Each of the four areas outlined in the letter are based on a bills already passed by the House and have been sitting in the Senate, “so there is no reason for further delay,” according to the letter.  Notably missing from these points of cooperation is any mention of raising the minimum wage for government contract workers, immigration reform, or closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Skill-training programs to improve job eligibility

In his speech Tuesday night, Obama said he asked Vice President Biden to “lead an across-the-board reform of America's training programs” to include “more on-the-job training, and more apprenticeships that set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life.”

The GOP letter notes that the House passed its SKILLS Act last year, which was backed by two major tech associations. The bill would combine funding for job training programs into a single Workforce Investment Fund.

The Obama administration released a statement in March that criticized the SKILLS Act for not adhering to the “administration's key principles for reform." By freezing funds at $6 billion for the next seven years, it said, the bill would harm low-income populations, veterans, and disabled people.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed a letter to House leadership last March in opposition of the SKILLS Act, writing that it would “strengthen the role of business in workforce development decisions.” The AFL-CIO opposed the bill on the basis that it would “eliminate the mandate for labor representation on state and local boards.”

Natural Gas Pipelines

The climate-change related portion of the State of the Union hung heavily on increasing the amount of natural gas used by American factories. “If extracted safely, it's the bridge fuel that can power our economy,” Obama said.

Unsurprisingly, the House Republicans agree on this point, noting that the House has passed its Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act to fix what Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) called “regulatory hell”. That bill would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission one year to approve new natural gas pipelines. Other government agencies would have to act within 90 days after FERC’s decision, or else the new pipelines would be approved automatically .  

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., warned that the bill would  “short-circuit” the process and rush environmental reviews.

The Obama administration said it opposes the bill, according to the Hill.

Ending Workplace Policies That Belong In A ‘Mad Men’ Episode

Last May, the Republican letter notes, the House passed the Working Families Flexibility Act, which the Obama administration has hinted it would veto "in its current form," based on the fact that it would weaken protections in the Fair Labor Standards Act. The exact same measure was rejected by Democrats at least two times before, the Huffington Post notes.

"In light of your comments Tuesday night, we ask you to revisit this decision," Republican leadership wrote, suggesting they meet with Obama as soon as possible if he still has "specific concerns" about the legislation in it's current form.

Federally Funded Science Research

Obama called on Congress Tuesday to “undo the damage done by last year's cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery.”

The GOP letter notes that the House passed the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, which would remove public funding from political party conventions like the DNC and RNC, and "instead fund pediatric research at the NIH." That bill will be introduced in the Senate this week, according to the letter.

The letter goes on to suggest a classic Republican fix: that more research funding be found by defunding other "low priority" programs.

Despite the Republicans’ upbeat “Let’s get to work” sign-off, most of the offered solutions to Obama’s asks have already been rejected by the president or have little hope of passing the Senate. The president’s biggest hopes -- immigration reform, a minimum wage hike, and finally closing Guantanamo Bay -- go unmentioned, a bad sign for bipartisanship in 2014. The letter does propose to sit down with the president, however, which offers some small hope for dealmaking.

Letter to the President January 30th 2014