BROOKSVILLE — When you're a freshman lawmaker, just about every momentous event inspires awe the first time around, and U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent said watching the State of Union address from the House floor was an impressive experience.
President Obama's speech, however, fell short for the Spring Hill Republican. "I thought he would have a few more specifics," Nugent said Wednesday.
Echoing the criticisms of his GOP colleagues, Nugent said he felt that Obama contradicted himself by talking about freezing federal spending while still investing in infrastructure.
"That's a very mixed message," he said. "You can't talk about reducing the deficit and at the same time talk about investing, which means more spending."
Obama insisted that the nation cannot try to cut its way to prosperity. Rather, leaders must invest in education and innovation to make Americans competitive in the world economy.
Nugent said freezing discretionary spending for five years starting this year, as Obama proposed, is not enough. Last week, he was in the majority of an 8 to 4 vote by the House Rules Committee to allow House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to single-handedly set fiscal 2011 discretionary, nondefense spending at fiscal 2008 levels or lower. Just hours before Obama's speech, the House approved the largely symbolic resolution.
Nugent, who voted last week to repeal the health care law passed last year, was happy to hear Obama talk about improving the legislation by including medical malpractice reform and removing provisions tough on small businesses, though he wondered why Obama wasn't willing to do that in the first place.
Much has been made of the decision this year to have lawmakers of the major parties intermingle rather than sit on separate sides of the House chamber. Nugent just picked a seat and wound up next to Rep. Joe Walsh, an Illinois Republican, and Rep. Jason Altmire, a moderate Democrat from Pennsylvania who voted against the health care bill.
The most moving part of the night, Nugent said, was sharing the experience with Marine Lance Cpl. Justin Gaertner. The 21-year-old Trinity resident lost both of his legs last November when a mine exploded near him in Marja, Afghanistan. Nugent met Gaertner a few weeks ago at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and invited him to be his guest for the speech.
Gaertner, perched in a wheelchair, watched the speech from the gallery. Afterward, he came down to the House floor.
"The look in his eyes, he was so excited about being there," Nugent said.