President Barack Obama on Tuesday evening presented an unabashed liberal plan for America in his State of the Union address that may just shape his legacy while challenging Republicans to work with him on "common-sense" solutions.
The White House had promised that the address would be a continuation of the president’s Jan. 21 Inaugural Address and turned out to be just that.
Obama outlined a blueprint for a “smarter” but not a “bigger” government and economic recovery in which the middle class will be the driving force. He called middle-income earners “true engine of America’s economic growth” and said the government must “work on behalf of the many and not just the few.”
Jobs, Economy And The Middle Class
Jobs and the economy were definitely at the core of the State of the Union, with the President calling for a raise in minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour.
“This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families,” Obama said. “It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets.”
In an unprecedented step, he even proposed indexing the minimum wage to the cost of living “so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.”
A Sequester Dig At Republicans
With the nation inching closer to a sequester – billions of dollars in military and domestic spending cuts to take effect March 1 – Obama took an early dig at Republicans, who have been threatening to allow the cuts to happen.
Obama called the cuts “sudden, harsh, arbitrary” and said they will jeopardize America’s military readiness, education and research.
“They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs,” he said, noting that America cannot keep slipping into manufactured crises.
Cornering the GOP to look like the bad guys should the cuts happen or the debt ceiling not be lifted, Obama called on Republicans to agree “right here, right now to keep the people’s government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America.” He said Americans have worked too hard to lift the nation out of crisis only to have to stumble into another.
Draws Line At Medicare
Health care, particularly Medicare, was another major theme in the State of the Union, and Obama drew the line there when it comes to deficit reduction talks.
Not denying there is a need for modest reforms to the government-run insurance program for the elderly, Obama said the rising cost of health care for seniors is “the biggest driver of our long-term debt.”
There is a growing tension between Democrats and Republicans about how to reduce the deficit. The battle has been set up between the options of cutting entitlements and raising taxes. Democrats are in favor of taxes and new revenue while the GOP is stuck on the former.
“We can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful,” Obama said. “Most Americans – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – understand that we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share. And that’s the approach I offer tonight.”
The Medicare reform envisioned by Obama will include a reduction in taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies and asking more from the wealthiest seniors.
“I am open to additional reforms from both parties, so long as they don’t violate the guarantee of a secure retirement,” he added. “Our government shouldn’t make promises we cannot keep – but we must keep the promises we’ve already made.”
Immigration Reform: ‘We Know What Needs To Be Done’
With some 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, Obama said the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform. This isn’t a new idea as the president has made these pleas since he took office.
Though the plan is similar, Obama mentioned that border security must be first and foremost. This, according to him, includes adding more manpower on the southern border, which said has already reduced illegal crossings to a 40-year low. “Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship – a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally,” he said. “And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.”
Saying that lawmakers know what needs to be done, Obama urged them to send him a comprehensive immigration bill and “I will sign it.”
Renewing his commitment to find legislative solution following the shooting deaths of 26 people last December at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Obama challenged the GOP to bring the issue to a vote.
Among the solutions he has proposed are background checks, an assault weapons ban and the same for high-capacity magazines.
“Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress,” he said. “If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. … They deserve a vote. Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.”
Special Shout Out To Women
With the Senate passing the Violence Against Women Act Tuesday, which was originally drafted by Joe Biden nearly 20 years ago, Obama encouraged the House to do the same. Seizing the moment, Obama also asked Congress pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year so that women earn a living equal to their efforts.
Warning To North Korea And Iran
Obama took on an offensive tone when addressing these two nations, reminding Iran that the time for diplomatic solutions is now. Iran is quickly enriching uranium it says is for peaceful means, but there is concern that the country could get its hands on nuclear weapons.
“We will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon,” Obama reassured. He also confirmed earlier reports that the U.S. will be working with Russia for further reductions in both their cache of nuclear arsenals.
As for North Korea, which conducted its third nuclear test Tuesday, a clear defiance of U.N. resolutions, Obama warned that that regime should know “they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations. Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.”
Other issues that got a special mention were clean energy and energy independence, climate change, and Afghanistan, where Obama announced 34,000 American troops will return home next year from the war.
Laura is a U.S. politics reporter for the International Business Times. She was always fascinated by the BBC World News each morning on the radio in Jamaica. That, and a love...