By Karen Tumulty and Lori Montgomery
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's State of the Union address laid down the marker for a new, activist phase of his presidency — one in which he will not allow concerns about the deficit to dictate the major policy decisions that confront him.
But congressional Republicans insisted Wednesday that the problem they consider the biggest long-term threat to the nation's prosperity is still a long way from being solved, and that they will keep it front and center.
"It seems like they're just trying to sweep our fiscal problems under the rug and call it a day," said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who was the Republican vice presidential candidate last year. "We've spent years debating — inside groups, outside groups — talking about a debt crisis. And now they're trying to suggest that the problem is nearly solved, and don't worry about it."
As he begins his second term, Obama is convinced that he has gained the upper hand on fiscal issues, in part because the latest projections show the deficit is coming down from its record levels.
Obama also argued in his speech Tuesday night that continuing to focus so intensely on reducing red ink could hamper the country's ability to create "a growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs — that must be the North Star that guides our efforts."
Those words were a signal that Obama does not intend to fight his battles on Republican terms, including the common GOP assertion that most other goals should be secondary to taming the deficit and reducing the debt.
Though few of the proposals he mentioned in the speech were new, the president believes that his re-election has given him new momentum to pursue them, aides said.