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Obama: Debt ceiling fight contributed to poor economy

President Obama delivers his third State of the Union address, laying out his agenda for the coming year: building the economy, bringing manufacturing back, and increasing infrastructure projects. He describes an America "where hard work pays off and responsibility is rewarded."

 

President Obama railed against dysfunction on Capitol Hill during his State of the Union address, blaming gridlock in Washington for the economy's sluggish performance in the past year.

The president demanded a series of reforms intended to address the poor function of Congress, which played out in a series of battles over taxes and spending over the past year, and drove public opinion of lawmakers to an all-time low.

"But no matter what party they belong to, I bet most Americans are thinking the same thing right now:  Nothing will get done this year, or next year, or maybe even the year after that, because Washington is broken," Obama said. "Can you blame them for feeling a little cynical?"

Obama and lawmakers fought to the last minute on a variety of legislative matters throughout 2011. The biggest fight took the U.S. to the brink of defaulting on its national debt in August, while other battles between House Republicans and the administration almost prompted a government shutdown several times before last-minute agreements could be struck to extend government spending.

The freshest example came just at the end of December, when Republicans balked at a deal to extend an expiring tax-cut for two months, only to eventually relent and agree to pass the extension.

"The greatest blow to confidence in our economy last year didn’t come from events beyond our control.  It came from a debate in Washington over whether the United States would pay its bills or not," Obama said in reference to those battles.

The administration has enjoyed some political traction in its battles with Republicans in Congress. Obama unveiled a comprehensive jobs plan last September, and subjected GOP lawmakers to votes on its individual components throughout the fall. While none of the initiatives came close to becoming law, Republicans were forced to go on the record on some of the Obama proposals, cherry-picked for votes in Congress based on their popularity.

Obama called for a series of government reforms in his address meant to curb the cynicism toward Congress, including a ban on insider trading by members of Congress, as well as new limits on elected officials from owning stocks in industries they impact.

The president also called for a ban on campaign bundlers -- party fundraisers who gather together donations for candidates -- cannot lobby Congress.

In terms of other procedural reforms, Obama called for the Senate to pass a rule ensuring judicial and public service nominees receive an up-or-down confirmation vote within 90 days of their nomination. A recent precedent in both parties of blocking nominees and subjecting them to a higher, 60-vote threshold has taken hold of the upper chamber.