Owens likes most of Obama’s message

If President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address sounded familiar to New Yorkers, it’s probably because he covered much of the same ground Gov. Andrew Cuomo did in his State of the State speech last month.

Gun control, increased access to pre-kindergarten classes, an increase in the minimum wage and a renewed call to fight against the causes of climate change were all highlighted in Obama’s one-hour speech Tuesday night. They’re also some of the same issues Cuomo has placed at the top of his agenda for 2013.

“I thought that it was a good, upbeat speech,” U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said during a phone interview following Obama’s address. Owens sat with a bipartisan group of New York lawmakers, part of Congress’s “No Labels” coalition, for the speech. Rep. Chris Gibson, a Kinderhook Republican who until this year represented part of the North Country, was also sitting with that group, which includes 40 Republicans and Democrats from both the House and the Senate.

“(Obama) called, again, for bipartisanship,” Owens said. “He focused on a couple things that I think are important. The manufacturing hubs, where he proposes three more and to grow it to 15. He talked about the ‘fix it first’ program, the 70,000 bridges that need repair. If we do that, we’re going to create an enormous number of jobs in our communities and repair our infrastructure. And that is absolutely necessary for moving people and goods.”

Owens said he was pleased to hear Obama call for expanded background checks for gun buyers. Owens has stated repeatedly that he thinks Congress can agree on passing stricter rules for buyers.

While highlighting recent shooting victims from across the U.S., Obama repeatedly stated, “They deserve a vote.” Owens said rather than call for passage of gun control measures, the president was simply pushing Congress to at least bring legislation to the floor for consideration.

“To be quite honest with you, I don’t think that will happen in the House of Representatives,” Owens said. “I think the two bills that we may see would be the expanded background checks, and potentially the gun-running bill which is sponsored by Sen. (Kirsten) Gillibrand. … I think those two have a very good chance of making it to the floor and getting voted on.

“Some of the other proposals, really, are things that he put forth previously, and many of those I don’t think will get to the floor for a vote.”

Those other proposals include a ban on assault weapons and ammunition magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. Owens told the Enterprise last week that he won’t support such bans.

Obama also proposed increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour by 2015, and tying future increases in the minimum wage to inflation. Owens stopped short of endorsing the president’s plan.

“When you look at this at 40,000 feet, it sounds like a very good idea,” he said. “When you look at it at 10 feet, and you’re talking to a small business, that’s a different situation. I think we need to make sure that we’re doing this in a way that does not injure small business, and I think there are ways to do it and do it effectively.”

Obama indicated that he would help cut the red tape to speed up new oil and gas projects as part of a comprehensive energy policy. Asked if that signaled action on the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, Owens said he thinks so.

“It focuses on Keystone, but it also focuses on natural gas exploration,” he said. “I think that those things are, in fact, necessary. We want to them as safely as we can. … They are important, both from an economic and a national security perspective.”

Owens said he agrees with Obama that the government must do more to limit climate change.

“I think that we’ve really experienced some dramatic climate activity in the last couple of years,” he said. “I think we need to be taking it seriously.”

Owens also applauded Obama’s call for immigration reform but stressed that he wants legislation to include expanded foreign worker programs to help farmers.

Fans of the Enterprise Facebook page also had their say following Obama’s address. The reaction was fairly mixed, with Robert Sutor calling it an “Excellent speech by a highly intelligent, inspiring leader who knows where America needs to go,” to Bill Green simply commenting “Liar.”

Jason Leon, a local Democrat and member of the Lake Placid village Board of Trustees, wrote on Facebook that Obama’s story about Desaline Victor, the 102-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who waited three hours to vote in Florida last year, “literally made me tear.

“She is why I love the United States of America,” Leon wrote.