Tonight’s State of the Union address comes at a consequential time in our nation’s history, with jobs and the economy at the forefront of concerns for the American people. Clearly, the president’s address was an attempt to recalibrate his administration’s agenda to reflect the increasing demand of the American people to fully focus not on growing government, but rather on growing our economy. The administration and Congress must push past partisan rancor and reach common ground on the paramount issue of creating an environment that will nurture job creation and preservation.

As we struggle to emerge from the longest and deepest recession since World War II, the administration and Congress must finally engage the country, listen to what the American people are saying, and focus on bridging differences to bring about results that genuinely improve the lives of Americans who are struggling on a daily basis as a result of these precarious economic times. There is a justified and palatable frustration given that both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue have failed to address the concerns and realities facing the American people.

Therefore, our singular purpose must be to reorganize our thinking about policy and reorient our priorities. As Congress considers new initiatives in this session and as we anticipate the release of the president’s budget next Monday, we must examine any and all proposals through the prism of job creation and economic growth. At the same time, the message must be received loud and clear that the American people want us to jettison the strategies of passing legislation at the margins, and narrow the partisan divide — as that is the only way we will achieve credible and sustainable solutions to the challenges confronting our nation.

In that light, as ranking member of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, I was encouraged to hear the president’s unequivocal support tonight for aiding our small businesses, which are the engine of our nation’s economy and create approximately two-thirds of net new jobs each year. I recently held several small business round tables across my home state of Maine, and one repeated refrain I heard was that we need smarter government and sensible, bipartisan solutions that work, not sweetheart deals made behind closed doors just to secure 60 votes.

Small business owners are confronted with uncertainty on so many levels – access to capital, skyrocketing health care costs, onerous taxes, an ever-increasing regulatory burden and volatile energy prices – all of which undermine confidence. Until small business owners can discern stability in their bottom line operating costs, they simply won’t expand their businesses and create new jobs – and our nation’s economic recovery will continue to be jobless. And a jobless recovery is not a true recovery.

To that end, I have a number of initiatives I believe are essential based on what I learned at small business forums I conducted earlier this month throughout the state, and I will leave no stone unturned in fighting to secure their passage in the Congress.

I agree with the president that we must do more to assist the middle class who are struggling so mightily during these wearisome times. It is imperative that we reorient our focus away from Wall Street and toward Main Street. We must extend critical expiring safety net programs, including unemployment benefits and COBRA. We can also do more to make college education more affordable and make it easier for hardworking Americans to save for their future prosperity.

I also welcome President Obama’s call to freeze domestic discretionary spending for the next three years. The fact is that every dollar that Washington overspends ultimately has to be repaid, and I simply don’t think it is fair to saddle American taxpayers with the bill. It was that same principle that led me to vote against a massive omnibus spending bill last December that bundled six appropriations bills and increased spending by 13 percent over Fiscal Year 2009 levels and 25 percent over Fiscal Year 2008 levels. That’s as irresponsible as it is unsustainable, and while the president’ s spending freeze will not on its own address budget shortfalls, it is a solid first step toward veering away from a path that will rob our children and grandchildren of their prosperity.

In the same vein, we also must ensure that each and every dollar we spend either creates jobs at a greater rate or protects displaced individuals at a lower cost than competing policies on the table. That is why I contacted Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag last month and urged the administration to analyze the unspent funds in the Recovery Act enacted into law in February and determine whether portions should be reprogrammed to offset the cost of future stimulus legislation.

This worthy endeavor will ensure we are using taxpayer dollars in the most effective way possible while addressing the pertinent and grave issues facing our nation today.

Finally, as Americans continue to struggle in this economy, they saw a new health reform bill growing in scope far beyond addressing their critical concerns. They learned new taxes would be imposed, new programs and spending created and they could not even determine how they would be directly helped. The loss of bipartisan consensus building – and a closed merger process – preceded a decline in both bipartisanship and public support.

Ultimately, the need for reform has not changed as the escalation in costs and the number of uninsured or underinsured and the drag on our economy that the status quo is imposing will persist under current law. What is critical is that the American people have confidence in the solution that is forged – and as I have said, the credibility of the process will determine the credibility, and the sustainability, of the outcome.

Olympia Snowe represents the state of Maine in the U.S. Senate.