U.S. Republicans respond and respond to Obama State of Union

Tue Jan 28, 2014 8:43pm EST

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* McMorris Rodgers attacks Obamacare

* Senators Paul and Lee also vie for Republican spotlight

By Richard Cowan and Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Republicans in the U.S. Congress responded in competing voices on Tuesday to President Barack Obama's annual State of the Union address as various wings of the party vied to advance their prescriptions for the country's best way forward.

Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who was set to deliver the sanctioned Republican response to Obama, will queue up long-held party doctrine that "champions free markets and trusts people to make their own decisions, not a government that decides for you."

In excerpts of the speech to be delivered by the five-term congresswoman from Washington state, McMorris Rodgers took a broad swipe at "Obamacare," the 2010 landmark healthcare law that Republicans have tried to repeal, delay or significantly alter nearly 50 times since its enactment.

"We've all talked to too many people who have received cancellation notices they didn't expect or who can no longer see the doctors they always have," McMorris Rodgers said of the Affordable Care Act, which got off to a troubled start.

"No, we shouldn't go back to the way things were, but the president's health care law is not working," she said.

Republican Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, two favorites of the anti-Washington Tea Party movement, were staging separate responses to Obama's speech.

Paul, a newcomer to the Senate who often is mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential candidate, appealed to the conservative base of the Republican Party.

"Economic growth will come when we lower taxes for everyone," Paul said in excerpts of his speech. "Government spending doesn't work."

McMorris Rodgers is relatively unknown nationally, even though as No. 4 House Republican she is the highest-ranking female member of her party in Congress and holds the distinction of being the only person to give birth three times while serving as a member of the House of Representatives.

Her moment in the limelight came as Republicans are eyeing November's congressional elections and the 2016 race for the White House as opportunities to close a "gender gap" that contributed to their 2012 election losses.

That gender gap was on full display in 2012, when Obama received 55 percent of women's votes, while failed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney got 44 percent.

Even as Republicans tried to broaden their appeal with women voters, they pushed through the House on Tuesday a partisan bill that would make it more difficult for some women to get abortions.

One year ago, a USA Today/Gallup poll found that by a 53 percent-to-29 percent margin, Americans said they wanted the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision granting abortion rights to be kept in place.

A SECOND GAP

Attacking another gap - among Hispanic-American voters - Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida was set to deliver a speech closely tracking McMorris Rodgers' but spoken in Spanish.

In 2012, Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote to Romney's 27 percent. Since then, House Republicans have blocked comprehensive immigration reform moves that are important to Latino voters.

Ros-Lehtinen, in her Spanish-language speech, was vague about immigration reform's prospects in the House.

"It's also time to honor our history of legal immigration. To do that, we have to fix our broken immigration system with a permanent solution which ensures that our country will always attract the best, the most brilliant and the hardest working from all over the world," she said in a Reuters translation of her remarks.

Like McMorris Rodgers, Lee also demanded a smaller federal government.

The rise of the Tea Party helped Republicans take control of the House in the 2011, but some of its Senate candidates in the past few elections have fallen short, leaving that chamber in the hands of Democrats.

Nevertheless, the Tea Party's war against large federal budget deficits set the agenda for Congress in 2011, 2012 and 2013, when Democrats and Republicans battled each other over spending cuts.

Tea Party proposals, Lee said in excerpts of his remarks, "will put Americans back to work, not just by cutting big government, but by fixing broken government."

Those excerpts made big promises. Tea Party initiatives, Lee said, would promote "bigger citizens, stronger families and more heroic communities."

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