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Washington • The government is the cause not the solution to the inequality the nation faces, and America's union would be stronger if the government would just get out of the way, Sen. Mike Lee said Tuesday in response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address.
The Utah Republican charged that Obama's lofty, government-driven ideas are leading the country in the wrong direction, making it harder for people to achieve the American dream.
"We are facing an inequality crisis one to which the president has paid lip-service, but seems uninterested in truly confronting or correcting," Lee said at the National Press Club. "But where does this new inequality come from? From government every time it takes rights and opportunities away from the American people and gives them instead to politicians, bureaucrats, and special interests."
"Tonight," Lee added, "his party cheered as he asked for more of the same, as if the solution to inequality were, well, more inequality."
Lee said the tea party protests need to turn into progress and that it's not what the movement is against that counts but what it is for. America needs to cut and fix big government, promote stronger families and support "heroic" communities.
"Our goal should be an America where everyone has a fair chance to pursue happiness and find it," Lee said. "That's what it looks like when protest grows into reform."
Lee, who helped lead the fight against Obamacare that prompted a 16-day government shutdown last year, has been urging action on poverty, higher education and religious liberty that lessens federal involvement. The Tea Party Express, an umbrella group for the five-year-old movement, invited Lee to rebut Obama's address; the official Republican response came from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.
Utah's other members of Congress watched the president speak in the House chamber and similarly criticized Obama's rhetoric Tuesday, arguing that his top-down approach adds to the problems.
"If you held conservative values you felt that you were almost ridiculed and that is disappointing to folks," said Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah. The president took a swipe at Republicans for the more than 40 votes to undermine the Affordable Care Act and he repeatedly mentioned his willingness to work around Congress on issues from climate change to voting rights.
"While the president is right that we need to get our economy back on track, he's absolutely wrong that the federal government is the solution," Stewart said.
Sen. Orrin Hatch said that states like Utah are having economic success by doing the opposite of Obama's agenda, like lowering taxes, lessening regulation and developing energy.
"It is my hope that over the remaining time of his presidency, President Obama will look outward toward states like Utah rather than continuing to look inward at the same failed ideas from Washington in order to get our country back on track," Hatch said.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, blasted Obama for saying that he would use his executive authority to take action if Congress wouldn't.
"If he truly wants to get the country back on the path to success, he ought to reconsider his decisions to dictate laws via executive fiat that only serve the interest of few and not the entire nation," Bishop said. "If this year is supposed to be President Obama's 'year of action,' I remain very concerned about what he has in store for our country."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said the president included "some touching moments recognizing the military, which obviously unite us."
But he said House Republicans felt they were delivered a series of ultimatums.
"You can't simultaneously say we want to work together, but if you don't do it my way I'm just going to do it myself," Chaffetz said.
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, called Obama's address "optimistic," and he saw potential bipartisan agreement on calls for free trade agreements, business friendly tax reform and an expansion in the use of natural gas.
"The concern I have with the speech was the notion that 'If Congress doesn't act, I'm just going to start doing things on my own,' " Matheson said. "To me Congress is supposed to set policy, regardless of who the president is."