Obama stresses middle class in State of the Union – USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — The nation is ready to “turn the page” from years of financial hardship, President Obama said Tuesday, as he used his State of the Union speech to promote an ambitious program of “middle class economics” in the face of new Republican majorities in Congress.
Citing the legacy of programs like Social Security, Medicare and college aid, Obama told the GOP-led Congress that “middle-class economics works” and “these policies will continue to work, as long as politics don’t get in the way.”
Obama trumpeted job growth and other signs of recovery from the ashes of the 2008 economic crisis while pitching a tax hike on the wealthy, new tax breaks for child care, and programs that include two free years of community college, lower interest rates on mortgage insurance and new requirements for paid sick leave.
“The shadow of crisis has passed,” he said, “and the State of the Union is strong.”
And while outlining new ways to counter terrorist threats more than a decade after 9/11, Obama asked Congress to formally approve new authorization for the ongoing battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Speaking exactly two years before the end of his second term, the president who normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba also called on lawmakers to end the trade embargo against that former foe.
For the first time, the White House posted the text of the speech in advance, part of its efforts to promote the address via social media.
Republicans who now run the Senate as well as the House described Obama’s economic plans as tired “tax-and-spend” policies that will slow the economy, and are designed more to help Democratic election prospects in 2016.
“He knows we’re not likely to pass these kinds of measures,” said new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, urging Obama to “look for things that we can actually agree on.”
McConnell cited a bill requiring immediate construction of the Keystone oil pipeline — a plan Obama has pledged to veto — as well as free trade deals and new cybersecurity legislation, items the president did call for in his State of the Union Address.
Some of Obama’s proposals did not win passage in previous years, when Democrats controlled the Senate.
This was Obama’s first State of the Union Address since the November elections that brought the GOP to power in the Senate, and increased its long-standing majority in the House.
In the formal Republican response to the president’s speech, one of the new senators — Joni Ernst of Iowa — plans to say that the health care law and other Obama regulatory polices have led to stagnant wages, lost jobs, higher insurance premiums and canceled policies.
“When we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mind-set that led to failed policies like Obamacare,” Ernst plans to say, according to released excerpts.
In a speech featuring both conciliation and confrontation, Obama said he wants to work with the Republican majorities on items like trade and tax reform — but will also pledge to veto any bills that undermine his health care or environmental initiatives. Obama will also reserve the right to take executive action, as he did last year on immigration.
The president also said that businesses and the economy shouldn’t be put at risk “with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns.”
The speech featured one tense exchange, as some Republicans applauded when Obama said he has no more elections to run. The twice-elected president responded: “I know, because I won both of them.”
The White House took a different approach to this year’s State of the Union, announcing a series of initiatives in advance and urging supporters to follow the speech via live stream on tablets and smart phones.
The plans revolve around what Obama and his aides call three basic goals: Helping families make paychecks go farther, creating higher paying jobs, and training people for the skills needed to do those jobs.
Among the proposals rolled out over the past two weeks:
• A revenue plan designed to raise $320 billion over 10 years from wealthy taxpayers, via the closing of loopholes and an increase in the capital gains top rate.
• New programs estimated at $235 billion over 10 years, including tax credits for child care and second earners that will help working families, and financing two years of community college for qualified students.
• Proposed legislation requiring employers to provide paid sick leave for workers.
Obama also echoed long-standing legislative proposals that included new road and bridge projects, a higher minimum wage, equal pay laws for women, and increased money for basic research, including a new “Precision Medicine Initiative” devoted to fighting diseases like cancer and diabetes.
In a swipe at the Keystone project, Obama asked lawmakers to “set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline,” and pass a bigger infrastructure bill.
On the foreign policy front, Obama again promised to veto new congressional sanctions against Iran, saying they would ruin ongoing negotiations over that nation’s nuclear program.
Obama illustrated some of his themes by telling the stories of guests the White House invited to view the speech from the presidential box.
“Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?” Obama said. “Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”
An upbeat president also disputed cynics who say the nation remains too divided, telling Congress: “I still believe that, together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long.”
If you’re watching President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, there is more to the evening than just the proposals. AP’s Nancy Benac gives a rundown of the five things to pay attention to during the president’s big speech. (Jan. 20)
Take a look back at President Obama’s last five State of the Union speeches to see the similarities and differences.
Today the White House released one of its most anticipated guest lists this morning…who will be sitting with First Lady Michelle Obama during the Stae of the Union speech tomorrow night.
(USA NEWS, USA TODAY)
Joni Ernst, a freshman Iowa senator, is the first new senator the GOP has ever chosen to give a State of the Union rebuttal.
(News, USA TODAY)