U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., says she hopes that President Barack Obama discusses the nation’s crumbling infrastructure – such as roads, bridges, and the power supply -- in his State of the Union address tonight.
Such projects are “sadly neglected and underfunded,’’ McCaskill told reporters in a conference call Tuesday.
“It’s going to be one of the priorities that I try to embrace this year,” she continued. McCaskill said she would highlight the importance of doing “what we must do to maintain roads and bridges, our water projects and things that are very important, like our electrical grid in this country."
The senator said she was particularly concerned by Missouri transportation officials’ recent announcement that they have no money for new road projects and that even maintaining existing roads and bridges is at risk.
“That is a good way for us to slide backward in terms of economic progress,” McCaskill said.
An early Obama supporter, McCaskill expects the president's address to focus primarily on economic progress during his tenure.
“It is significant, startling in fact, when you compare where he began in the first month of his presidency,” she said. “The stock market has doubled. Deficits have been cut in half, our GDP has grown by a much wider margin than other developed nations…our manufacturing has increased. We’ve created millions and millions of jobs, after losing close to a million jobs a month when he first took office.”
She acknowledged that more needed to be done, implying that it’s up to Republicans to focus more on compromise than conflict.
“The Republicans can’t even have one response to the president tonight. They’ve got three different responses to the president’s message,” she said.
It was unclear if McCaskill was including her colleague, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who has been all over TV and radio highlighting the GOP’s differences with Obama.
McCaskill said that the Republican Party needs to deal with its own disarray. “The Republican Party is very fractured,” she said. There is a group consisting of “those who are willing to sit down and be reasonable and try to find common ground, but then there is a whole of group of them…who believe they are here to shut down the government.”
She said that there’s “a large group of Republicans who believe compromise is a dirty word… When your goal is the failure of the other political party, then it’s kind of hard to work with them.”
McCaskill warned Republicans and their allies not to dwell on Obama’s decline in public-opinion polls. She pointed out that the public has an even lower opinion of Congress.
“The president’s numbers are in the tank,” she said. “But guess what? He’s a popular guy compared to us.”
Affordable Care Act
Despite the initial problems with the federal health-insurance website, McCaskill said she believed the public’s opinion is improving as more and more people find affordable coverage on the exchanges.
“If the Republicans are willing to work on making the bill better, sign me up,” McCaskill said.
But she was critical of the latest GOP alternative unveiled this week. Among other things, McCaskill said the Republican proposal doesn’t help people who can’t get coverage because of pre-existing conditions. The GOP plan only allows such people to keep their coverage if they’ve had no lapse.
McCaskill contrasted that with what she’s been hearing from constituents. “We every day are getting more and more information from Missourians that they are pleased with what they’ve been able to buy.”
She cited “a couple from Ballwin” who operate a small business and wrote about the new coverage they bought on the exchange. “ ‘We are thrilled,” the unidentified wife wrote. “We’re saving 60 percent from our current coverage and all of our pre-existing conditions will be covered. This will make a huge difference in our bottom line.”
McCaskill said she recognized that the Affordable Care Act could use some tweaks, but she rejected GOP calls for a complete repeal. “We’re not going to go back to the old broken system,” she said.
McCaskill also touched on several other issues during the call:
- After years of stalemate, she predicted swift congressional action to approve a new farm bill. Among other things, it calls for cuts of $8 billion in the federal food stamp program, but McCaskill said the changes involve provisions not in place in Missouri.
- She lauded University of Missouri system president Tim Wolfe for moving quickly to investigate how the university handled a rape and suicide that occurred several years ago. McCaskill said universities everywhere need to acknowledge "this really pervasive problem on college campuses, of young women being sexually assaulted. "
- She predicted that congressional Republicans will gradually accept that the nation needs immigration policies that are more realistic than what she called the “unrealistic” GOP mantra of “self-deportation or lock them up.”