WASHINGTON – The House chamber was clearly divided Tuesday during President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address. The president touched on almost every national issue the United States is up against, from its economic status to the Islamic State group and the care of veterans.
“We live in a time of extraordinary change – change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world,” the president said as he transitioned into his four main points; the economy, technology, homeland security and good politics.
With almost every statement from the president, the crowd to on the left side of the chamber – where most Democrats sat – roared as the crowd to the right sat in silence.
Republican Rep. Mike Bost of the 12th District of Illinois, said the address was a “political speech” and did not present many solutions to the problems the nation is facing. Bost’s district is in the southwest part of the state, bordering Missouri and Kentucky. It includes Carbondale and East St. Louis.
“It did not truly deal with the state of our union, or where we need to go,” he said in an interview in his office after the speech. “There were things that I applauded, that I believe in.”
Bost said the president was lacking in facts, so he did his own fact checking on the main points of the speech, starting with the economy.
He cited this statement in the president’s speech: “The United States of America, right now, has the strongest most durable economy in the world. More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s, an unemployment rate cut in half.”
Bost countered: “Right now, this is fact, we are at a record 5.5 million Americans falling below the poverty line. That’s worse than when he took office.”
The poverty rate has increased since Obama has been in office. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate was 14.8 percent in 2014, while in 2008 when Obama won the election, the poverty rate was 13.2 percent.
Democrats often argue the federal minimum wage, which according to the Pew Research Center has not been changed since 2009, can affect the poverty rate.
When Obama said the unemployment rate has been cut in half, Bost said the facts show otherwise. He said a record 12 million American workers are out of the work force and no longer looking for jobs.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates unemployment rates, and when Obama took office in 2009, the unemployment rate was 9.3 percent. The rate for 2015 was 5 percent.
A BLS report released Friday found that 94 million people in the U.S. are not in the labor force and that 5.9 million of them want jobs.
Bost challenged another of the president’s statements:
“Our unique strengths as a nation – our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to rule of law — these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come,” the president said. “That’s how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops coming home and our veterans.”
As a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Bost said did not agree with president Obama’s statement on care for U.S. veterans.
“We have a record number of veterans not getting the care that they need and a backlog in our VA system,” Bost said. “Over 20 veterans a day are committing suicide.”
The VA released a report in 2014 updating a 2012 report that included that number. The 2014 report found that veterans’ suicide rate is above that for non-veteran men.
Bost said the divide on the floor of the House chamber was not something so distinctive from previous years and the president’s speech was driving a wedge between Democrats and Republicans, leaving no middle ground.
“I don’t believe it’s always been that clearly divided. And I think that’s the problem that has existed over the last eight years,” Bost said.
As the election year moves forward, Bost said the nation needs a president who can unite Congress and deliver a clear vision. He said the House Speaker Paul Ryan has demonstrated that vision very well so far.
“There’s good people on both sides of that aisle. We should be able to work together and get results,” he said.
Reach reporter Tia Rinehart at [email protected] or 202-408-1490. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.