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WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama’s Republican foes geared up Monday to spurn his call for more spending to boost sputtering US job growth, calling instead for painful cuts to deflate the swollen US debt.

Obama planned to use his yearly “State of the Union” speech to the nation on Tuesday to call for new investments in education and infrastructure to help the United States thrive in an increasingly harsh global economic jungle.

“We’ll take a look at his recommendations. We always do. But this is not a time to be looking at pumping up government spending,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News Sunday.

“The investment needs to occur in the private sector,” Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told NBC television on Sunday, warning that even the Pentagon’s giant budget would not be spared as lawmakers seek savings.

“The only way we’re really going to get unemployment down and get out of this economic trough is through private sector growth and development. I think excessive government spending, running up debt, making us look like a Western European country is the wrong direction,” said McConnell.

But Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, his party’s number-two in the Senate, noted that Obama had inherited the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s and that unemployment appeared to be on the retreat.

“We’re at least moving in the right direction. The president I’m sure in the State of the Union address will make it clear, his highest priority is putting America back to work, making sure that our nation is more competitive,” he said told Fox News Sunday.

And Durbin warned Republicans, who have warned they will oppose raising the US debt ceiling unless paired with deep spending cuts, against implementing a “doomsday scenario” that could spark a financial crisis.

But Republicans, especially those aligned with arch-conservative “Tea Party” activists, stepped up calls to slash government spending.

“With the nation nearly $14 trillion in debt, every million is worth saving. No program should be considered too big or too small to touch,” Republican Senate Jim DeMint said in a specialized publication about US politics.

And “with so many ideas to cut spending, there is no excuse to raise the debt ceiling to keep borrowing — not even the empty threat of default” on US debt obligations, DeMint said in a opinion column in the Politico.

House Republicans set the stage for a key vote Monday on a resolution that calls for cutting non-military spending to 2008 levels — before the Wall Street bailout and Obama’s massive early 2009 economic stimulus bill.

Some Republicans have expressed unease about that effort, which would lead to deep across-the-board cuts through the rest of the fiscal year that ends September 30.

And the most conservative House Republicans have proposed slicing 2.5 trillion dollars over ten years from government budgets — while rejecting any tax increase as hurting US growth.

Recent US polls have shown that the public’s number-one concern is bringing down historically high unemployment, a factor set to fuel bitter ideological feuding in divided Washington at least through Obama’s 2012 reelection bid.

The president told his supporters in a video message released over the weekend that that his televised “State of the Union” address, to be broadcast to an audience in the tens of millions, will focus on jobs.

“My principal focus, my number one focus, is going to be making sure that we are competitive, that we are growing and we are creating jobs not just now but well into the future,” he said in the message.

“And that’s what is going to be the main topic of the State of the Union,” he said.