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DES MOINES - Under Republican leadership, Congress is back to work on Americans' behalf to face challenges at home and threats from terrorists, freshman Sen. Joni Ernst said Tuesday in the GOP response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address.
However, rather than responding to Obama's speech, Ernst said she wanted to 'have a conversation about the new Republican Congress you just elected … (that is) ready to make Washington focus on your concerns again.”
Republicans heard the message voters sent in the November midterm election 'loud and clear,” Ernst said moments after the president's annual report to Congress. 'And now we're getting to work to change the direction Washington has been taking our country.”
In a speech that mixed jabs at Obama with optimism that the Democratic president can find common ground with the Republican House and Senate majorities, the first freshman senator to deliver the GOP response to a State of the Union speech said it will require Obama and Congress to break from the 'same stale mind-set that led to failed policies like Obamacare,” a mind-set 'that gave us political talking points, not serious solutions.”
Americans have been hurting because of stagnant wages and lost jobs, Ernst said.
'We see too many moms and dads put their own dreams on hold while growing more fearful about the kind of future they'll be able to leave to their children,” she said.
So the GOP majorities in the House and Senate are starting with 'serious job-creation ideas you deserve.”
She expects the Senate will follow the lead of the House where Republicans and Democrats passed legislation paving the way for construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which proponents say could mean thousands of new jobs and billions in economic activity with minimal environmental impact.
But Obama has been delaying the pipeline 'even though many members of his party, unions and a strong majority of Americans support it,” she said. 'President Obama will soon have a decision to make: Will he sign the bill or block good American jobs?”
Ernst also poked at the president's health care program that has caused 'canceled health care plans and higher monthly insurance bills.”
She called for meaningful tax reform to 'simplify America's outdated and loophole-ridden tax code” rather than raise taxes like the president proposed.
'Let's iron out loopholes to lower rates - and create jobs, not pay for more government spending,” she said.
In other areas, she said that with 'a little cooperation from the president, we can get Washington working again.”
'We know America faces big challenges. But history has shown there's nothing our nation, and our people, can't accomplish,” she said.
Ernst, who was elected in November to succeed five-term Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, was chosen to be the face of the Republicans' response to the president.
Ernst, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, 'understands that middle-class Americans want Congress to get back to work.”
Ernst acknowledged that Washington is a long way from her home in Red Oak - 'the little town in southwestern Iowa where I grew up and am still proud to call home today.”
She talked about growing up poor, plowing fields on the family farm and working for her father's construction company, wearing bread bags over her shoes to protect them from rain and mud, and making biscuits at a local fast food restaurant.
That's what makes Ernst a 'quintessential ‘only in America' story,” House Speaker John Boehner said.
However, Iowa Democrats said the former county recorder and state senator represents the same partisan differences that produced gridlock in Washington.
They pointed out Ernst said she was open to impeaching Obama and called him a 'dictator.” Her selection doesn't signal a new bipartisan atmosphere in Congress, former Democratic Chairman Scott Brennan said.
And despite her victory, Matt Sinovic of Progress Iowa said Ernst offered a 'hollow response … because she knows her positions are incredibly unpopular with everyday Iowans and Americans.”
Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, who called Obama's remarks 'a partisan screed clothed in bipartisan Pablum,” said Ernst 'started a positive conversation about how Congress can help create more jobs and enhance opportunity for all Americans.”
Although not as long as the president's, Ernst's speech offered a big agenda. She called for tearing down trade barriers in Europe and the Pacific to 'sell more of what we make and grow in America over there so we can boost manufacturing, wages and jobs right here at home.”
Ernst, a former commander in the Iowa National Guard who led troops in Kuwait and Iraq, called for comprehensive plans to defeat terrorists, for 'strategies to confront terrorism and the threats posed by al-Qaida, ISIL and those radicalized by them.”
'We've been reminded of terrorism's reach both at home and abroad, most recently in France and Nigeria, but also in places like Canada and Australia,” said Ernst, the first female combat veteran elected to the Senate. 'Our hearts go out to all the innocent victims of terrorism and their loved ones. We can only imagine the depth of their grief. The forces of violence and oppression don't care about the innocent.”
Speaking from the Senate Armed Services Committee room, Ernst called for honoring American veterans who have 'sacrificed so much in defense of our freedoms and our way of life.”
The Republican Congress will work to correct 'executive overreach,” prevent cyberattacks, confront Iran's nuclear ambitions and defend life 'because protecting our most vulnerable is an important measure of any society.”
Ernst closed by recalling her grandparents who 'worked, they sacrificed and they dreamed big dreams for their children and grandchildren.”
'They showed me that you don't need to come from wealth or privilege to make a difference,” Ernst said. 'You just need the freedom to dream big and a whole lot of hard work.”
The GOP majority, Ernst added, 'is working to make Washington understand that too.”