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President Obama may have entered the University at Buffalo’s Alumni Arena to raucous cheers on Thursday, but a lot of Republicans were shaking their heads behind the scenes.

Asked about Obama’s call for a new federal plan to address the high cost of a college education, leading area Republicans said it was more of the same: what they called yet another Washington-centered proposal that aims to distract the nation from the nation’s most important issue: sluggish economic recovery.

“It’s just another big-government solution,” said Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence. “Whenever there’s a problem, he speaks to a big-government solution.”

Collins said he wished the president would concentrate more on job creation and reducing the size of government. What’s more, Collins said he sees no reason for a government rating program for colleges – which is what Obama proposed – when many private publications perform the same function.

Meanwhile, Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy questioned why the president was focusing on education at a time when fearful employers are cutting back on jobs to avoid some provisions of Obama’s health care law.

“Mr. President, where are the jobs?” he asked. “You’re now in your fifth full year of your presidency and we have one of the slowest economic recoveries ever in this country.”

Businessman Anthony H. Gioia, former ambassador to Malta and major GOP fundraiser, echoed the complaints of many conservatives by saying the president had divided the nation.

“He is certainly the most divisive president in my lifetime,” Gioia said. “He is very, very partisan. I’ve never seen a president call out the opposition the way he does. He demeans and diminishes the office.”

And Carl P. Paladino, Buffalo School Board member and the 2010 Republican candidate for governor of New York, disputed the notion that Obama had ventured into friendly Democratic territory.

“This is not Obama turf, only for the uninformed and those at poverty level – and the ones who want free cell phones and ice cream,” he said.

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com and jzremski@buffnews.com