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Washington • Not surprisingly, Utah's members of Congress on Tuesday panned President Barack Obama's lofty goals he laid out in his State of the Union address, but there are some areas where the Republicans say they see a potential for progress.
Tax hikes are dead on arrival. Free community college education suspect. And immigration reform stalled.
But a few members of Utah's all-GOP delegation say there is room to work with Obama on issues like free trade, criminal justice reform and combating terrorism.
"There certainly are areas where I think we can work together," said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who is sponsoring legislation with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., that would change the nation's criminal justice system, a point Obama mentioned Tuesday night.
Lee and Obama have spoken privately several times about the bill, Lee said. Patent legislation is another area Lee says he could work with the president.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the easiest place for Obama to work with Republicans is fighting terrorism. Americans are concerned with Islamic terrorism, the congressman says, and it's something that unites people of both parties.
"That is something that should be very bipartisan in its approach," Chaffetz said, "and a place where he can rally the country and certainly the Congress."
But as in their response to most of Obama's ideas he rolled out Tuesday night, Utah's Republicans blasted the president's plan to hike taxes on the rich and cut what the White House says are "trust fund loopholes."
With Republicans holding control of the House and the Senate, action on those proposals isn't likely. "You think you're going to win the hearts and minds of this Republican-controlled Congress by increasing taxes by hundreds of billions of dollars?" Chaffetz said. "Isn't going to happen."
The White House isn't tone-deaf, thinking that what Obama floated at the State of the Union will sail through a combative Congress, but there is hope that some Republicans will be willing to step up on a few proposals.
"It would be a surprise if most Republicans agreed with most of the things the president says," a senior administration official said Tuesday in response to a question by The Salt Lake Tribune. "But what's critically important … [is that] we can't allow a difference of opinion over one issue to become a deal breaker over all the others."
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to speak candidly about the president's speech, said Republicans should be more welcoming of moves like closing loopholes that they themselves have raised, and shouldn't offer blanket opposition just because Obama favors it.
"There are Republicans who are talking about the value of closing some tax loopholes," the official said. "Now, the devil's in the details in all these proposals; everybody's got a different idea of what constitutes a loophole and what should be closed. But I do think that's an indication that there is some common ground to be found here."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which would oversee any changes to the tax code, said at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event Tuesday morning that Obama is setting up damaging tax policies that would hurt the economy and send a bad signal to businesses.
"Clearly, while President Obama may be using language typically associated with tax reform, his goals depart in many ways from the principles I've put forward," Hatch said. A "revenue neutrality [plan] is essential if we're going to enact real reforms. I hope we can get the president to reverse course on this."
Hatch, though, does appear to be lining up to help Obama renew the Trade Promotion Authority, a trade agreement that has found enemies among Obama's fellow Democrats.
"If President Obama can be more forward-leaning with members of his party starting with tonight's State of the Union address I believe we can get this done quickly," Hatch said. "That is what I am committed to do."
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said he wasn't optimistic Obama would be able to convince Congress to advance nearly any of his proposals mainly because the president was coming to the Capitol already trying to slap Republicans by proposing tax hikes.
"The proposals that they're leaking or openly talked about, by definition, they're designed to tweak Republicans," Stewart said. "He's going to press ahead with his agenda and Republicans be damned."
Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, said Tuesday she wasn't sure yet if there was something in Obama's agenda she'd want to work with him on, but she said the easiest way for the president to prove he is willing to compromise with the Republican majority is to try.
"I'm hoping he'll make good on his promise because he said he wants to work with Congress," Love said. "He should work with Congress and actually sign some of the bills we put on his desk."