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Obama's State of the Union Speech Needs NASA Focus, Lawmakers Say
U.S. President Barack Obama, accompanied by members of Congress and middle school children, waves as he talks on the phone from the Roosevelt Room of the White House to astronauts on the International Space Station, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010 in Washington.
Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

WASHINGTON— Florida lawmakers are looking for President Obama to lay out lofty goals for space exploration in the State of the Union speech he will deliver today.

NASA faces a turning point this year with the retirement of the shuttle fleet and the anticipated loss of thousands of jobs along the Space Coast.

"I'd like to hear a speech like John Kennedy — a national commitment to human space flight," said Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge. "Keep us first in national security, first in economic security, and inspire the next generation to reach for the stars."

Kennedy said "let us explore the stars" at his inauguration 50 years ago. In a 1962 speech, he dedicated the nation to a moon landing and other goals, "not because
they are easy, but because they are hard," and because they would organize the country's energies.

Obama set a Mars landing as a goal several decades from now, and has proposed additional funding for NASA to support development of private rockets to reach the International Space Station after the shuttle program ends later this year. But Congress hasn't approved the extra money yet.

Federal labor officials provided $15 million in June to retrain aerospace workers who will lose their jobs. The Economic Development Administration also proposed a $35 million grant program to spur high-tech businesses, but that money depends on a new spending bill.

"At a critical juncture for NASA, I think the president owes it to the American people to explain how he intends on preserving jobs along the Space Coast," said Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Orlando.

She urged the president to announce a plan for responsible spending cuts and a blueprint for fixing the budget process.

"With the economy still struggling and the nation burdened with trillion-dollar deficits and record debt created by the president and his allies in Congress, I would like to hear how he plans on stimulating private sector job growth and how he intends to work with small businesses over the next two years," Adams said.

Improving the economy also ranks as the nation's top priority, although reducing the debt also is a major concern, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

Florida had 12 percent unemployment in December, compared to 9.4 percent nationally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Brevard County's rate was 11.9 percent in December.

In the Pew survey, only 54 percent of respondents said they were optimistic about the country's long-term future, down from 61 percent last April and 70 percent in 1999.

Concern about the nation's debt is growing. Two of three people interviewed said reducing the budget deficit should be a top priority, up from 60 percent a year ago and 53 percent in 2009.

The Pew survey of 1,503 adults was conducted Jan. 5 through 9 and had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, said he'll work with Obama if the president is serious about tackling the debt and not postponing tough decisions.

But Rubio said he'll challenge the president "if he insists on pursuing the same old course of wasteful spending, higher taxes and policies that make it harder for businesses to start up or expand."

"Floridians need to hear that the president understands the seriousness of our national debt crisis — how it's an impediment to job creation and how it imperils our national security," Rubio said.

Contact Bart Jansen at bjansen@gannett.com.

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