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Area delegation lauds speech Lee cautions on spending but joins in praising president

Western New York's federal lawmakers applauded President Obama's address to Congress on Tuesday as a blueprint for the nation's recovery.

The lone Republican in the local delegation, Rep. Chris Lee of Clarence, sounded a note of caution about government spending while joining his colleagues, all Democrats, in praising the president's speech.

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., noted that partisan divides seemed to melt during the speech. "There was enormous excitement in the room and a sense of hope; it was palpable," she said. "There was an enormous amount of support for what he was saying from both sides of the aisle."

Like her colleagues, Gillibrand praised Obama's focus on the economic crisis and his optimism about how the crisis can be resolved. "I think people were very reassured" by the speech, she said. "All the elected leaders there got the sense that this is something that we can tackle together."

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., noted that Obama balanced that optimism with some harsh truths.

"Barack Obama did not shy away from giving a realistic view of the troubles our nation and world face," Schumer said. "His thoughtful, comprehensive approach gives people optimism and confidence that, guided by his leadership, we will get through this crisis."

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, noted that the president's speech was aimed not just at members of Congress but also the public.

"I thought he spoke in a nonpartisan way to the American people, and I think the people will respond," he said. "He's got a gift, a way of speaking beyond party politics to the American people. It was a great speech."

Lee balanced measured praise for the speech with criticism of Obama's Democratic colleagues in Congress. "I thought it was the speech he had to give," he said. "From Day One, I've respected him and what he's done, his willingness to listen to Republicans up front."

Lee praised Obama's call for fiscal responsibility while noting that congressional Democrats are scheduled to vote today on a budget bill that includes 9,000 "earmarks," or pork-barrel projects.

"They seem to be pulling a lot of the strings," Lee said.

Still, he said Obama's call for education reform -- and personal responsibility on the part of parents and students -- was hugely important. "I thought that was fantastic," he said. "It was refreshing to hear that."

Rep. Eric Massa, D-Corning, agreed. "I was very encouraged by the sense of accountability in the speech," he said. "He told the American people to take charge of educating their children and disciplining their executives. He said dropping out of school was un-American. I like that kind of accountability."

Both Massa and Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, said they were happy that Obama balanced an emphasis on ending the recession in the short term while also focusing on long-term goals.

"I am deeply heartened by President Obama's plans to move America in a new direction," Slaughter said.

She said she agreed with Obama that reforming the health care system is essential, as are moving toward energy independence and bolstering the education system. All are part of turning the nation around, she said.

"Quite simply, there is no time to waste," she added. "I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to enact President Obama's bold agenda to meet the needs of our workers and families, get our economy back on track and ensure a safer, brighter and more prosperous future for all Americans."

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com

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