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Owens praises State of the Union

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Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, was enthusiastic about President Barack H. Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address on Tuesday.

“I thought it was a very good speech,” Mr. Owens said, noting its positive tone and lauding the president’s efforts to build bridges across the aisle.

In particular Mr. Owens thought the president’s emphasis on manufacturing jobs was a step in the right direction and could appeal to a bipartisan audience.

Mr. Obama said, “Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing. After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three.”

The president said he wants to create “manufacturing hubs” across the nation that will see businesses “partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs.”

Mr. Obama wants to create 18 of these hubs and Mr. Owens said he hopes to bring one of these hubs to upstate New York.

“We do have some opportunities here,” Mr. Owens said.

Mr. Owens pointed to the recent decision by rail-freight operator CSX Corp. to invest roughly $107.3 million in a line that runs from Syracuse, through Massena, to Montreal as an example of infrastructure developments in upstate New York that could entice businesses to relocate to the region.

“It’s a very good sign,” Mr. Owens said.

Mr. Owens also praised the president’s focus on tax policy reform — closing loopholes and reducing deductions.

Mr. Obama said, “To hit the rest of our deficit reduction target, we should do what leaders in both parties have already suggested, and save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and well-connected.”

Mr. Owens has long advocated for tax reform and said the president’s speech was a step in the right direction.

And Mr. Owens also said the president’s military rhetoric sounded the right note regarding the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan over the next year and a half.

Mr. Obama promised to bring 34,000 troops home over the next year, just over half of the 66,000 American troops currently in Afghanistan.

“Clearly this is following the plan which has been in place for about two years. I think it’s the right move. It’s time we came home, but we need to do it in a safe method,” Mr. Owens said.

Part of that “safe method” may be the drone program the president flirted with in his speech but never outright mentioned.

Mr. Owens acknowledged the president’s implied reference to the secretive drone program, currently operated by the CIA.

“I think he was by implication saying that we have methods other than putting boots on the ground,” the congressman said.

And the drone program, Mr. Owens noted, could be a potential windfall for the Fort Drum region.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll get a drone squadron at Fort Drum,” Mr. Owens said.

In the meantime, Mr. Owens said the debate regarding the drone program, most notably seen during John O. Brennan’s Senate Confirmation Hearing on Feb. 7, is healthy.

“The debate is evidence of transparency,” Mr. Owens said. “If it’s a choice between putting troops on the ground and taking out a bad guy with a drone, I’m in favor of the drone.”

Mr. Owens also agreed with the president that across-the-board budget cuts to federal programs due to take effect on March 1, known as sequestration, would be a “bad idea.”

Mr. Obama said, if Congress doesn’t act now, “about a trillion dollars’ worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year. These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness. They’d devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

But Mr. Owens said, “I’m not seeing much down here that would lead me to conclude that there’s a resolution in the hopper.”

While he doubts there will be time for Congress to act on a deal to avoid the budget cuts, Mr. Owens said, “There will be time post-March 1 to recover from it.”

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