JIM LEHRER: Spending, jobs, and deficits will be on the agenda as President Obama addresses Congress and the nation tonight.
Kwame Holman begins our coverage.
KWAME HOLMAN: As the president worked putting the finishing touches on his second official State of the Union address today, details began to emerge about what he planned to propose.
The president reportedly intended to call for a five-year spending freeze on non-security discretionary spending and a ban on earmarks, money inserted by lawmakers for home state projects. The president also was expected to highlight a handful of targeted investment areas, including education, infrastructure and innovation.
House Republicans, like Jeb Hensarling of Texas, urged the president to stay away from policies that would grow the size of government.
REP. JEB HENSARLING (R-TX): And so we look forward to finding ways to work with the president to create more jobs and less spending in Washington.
But the American people, every time they hear somebody in Washington say investment, all they hear is, let’s go out and borrow 40 cents on the dollar and send the bill to our children. And no one, no one believes that you can make a great nation more competitive by somehow bankrupting future generations.
KWAME HOLMAN: Hours before the president was to deliver his speech, House Republicans moved forward with an effort to reduce non-security federal spending to pre-2008, pre-bailout levels. The measure was aimed at fulfilling a GOP campaign pledge last year to cut tens of billions from the budget.
The chair of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who will deliver the official Republican response tonight, said it was time to get the country’s fiscal house in order.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-Wis.): The days are over of unlimited spending, of no prioritization, and the days of getting spending under control are just beginning.
This is a first step in a long process. This is a minimal, small down payment on a necessary process to go forward, so that we can leave our kids with a better generation.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts said the Republican proposal lacked specifics.
REP. JIM MCGOVERN (D-Mass.): Don’t tell me you’re going to freeze to a level. That usually is a very inefficient way of doing it. Tell me what you’re going to cut. As I urged my colleagues to reject this misguided resolution, I ask my Republican colleagues, what’s the number and what are you going to cut?
KWAME HOLMAN: The debate over spending also was playing out over in the Senate today, where members returned from a two-week break. Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he welcomed the president’s attention to the issue.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-Ky.), minority leader: So, I’m all for the president changing his tune, but, unless he has a time machine, he can’t change his record.
And if we’re going to make any real progress in the areas of spending, debt, and reining in government, the president will have to acknowledge that the policies of the past two years are not only largely to blame for the situation we find ourselves in, but that, unless we do something to reverse their ill effects, the road to recovery and prosperity will be a bumpy one.
KWAME HOLMAN: Majority Leader Harry Reid said upcoming debates over deficits, raising the debt limit and health care should be based on facts, not empty rhetoric.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-Nev.), majority leader: The American people voted in November for a divided legislative branch of government, a Democratic Senate and a Republican House. They didn’t elect houses led by competing political parties because they want us to compete. They did so because they want us to cooperate. We cannot cooperate without an honest debate. And we cannot have an honest debate if we insist that fiction is fact.
KWAME HOLMAN: In one of the first signs of renewed bipartisanship, a plan to have lawmakers sit with colleagues from across the aisle was taking hold.
The idea, offered by Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat has, proposed dozens of pairings, including Senators John Thune of South Dakota and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and, in the House, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California and his Democratic counterpart, Steny Hoyer of Maryland.
Udall said he hoped the gesture would prove to the American people that their elected officials can work together.
SEN. MARK UDALL (D-Colo.): I’m an old mountaineer. I think that the aisle that divides us has become as high as a mountain. And it’s time to climb that mountain and look out upon America altogether.
KWAME HOLMAN: The idea to jettison the traditional seating arrangements gained momentum in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings.
On Capitol Hill today, black-and-white ribbons were being handed out to members of the House and Senate in remembrance of the victims.
WOMAN: Thank you so much.
KWAME HOLMAN: Among first lady Michelle Obama’s guests tonight will be the parents of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who was killed in the attack, Daniel Hernandez, the intern who came to the aid of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot, and University of Arizona trauma surgeon Peter Rhee, who cared for Giffords.
Bipartisan seating and civility aside, President Obama will confront a new political reality tonight as he delivers his first State of the Union address since Republicans won control of the House last year.