Obama Delivers Hefty State of the Union Address

President Obama laid out a heavy agenda of policy initiatives during his politically charged State of the Union address. The speech covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the economy, as well as climate change, immigration, gun reform, poverty, and voting accessibility.

He stressed the necessity of economic reforms that promote “a rising, thriving middle class.”

“It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love,” said Obama. “It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation.”

He also called on Congress to come together and draft a budget plan that combines spending cuts with tax revenues through closing loopholes and ending deductions for the wealthy, before the March 1 sequester deadline.

Along with spurring congressional action towards resolving the budget and deficit crises, Obama promoted American manufacturing, citing the return of jobs from companies like Ford, Intel, and Apple. He proclaimed that the country needs “a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.” He emphasized the development of renewable energy, as well as a “bipartisan, market-based solution” to combat climate change; he stated that he would take executive action if Congress did not do so.

Obama proposed the “Fix-It-First” program to repair the nation’s worn down infrastructure and create construction jobs; he suggested the program be paid for with a combination of taxpayer money and private capital.

The President also described several educational initiatives, including nationwide pre-school, high schools that establish partnerships with universities and businesses (he used P-Tech in Brooklyn as an example), and furthering STEM education. He announced the creation of the “College Scorecard,” which students and parents could use to compare colleges so they “can get the most bang for your educational buck.”

Obama shifted to address immigration reform, citing the need for a bill that would create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; he said the plan should include passing a background check, back paying taxes with an additional fine, learning English and “going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.”

Several Republicans have criticized this plan, arguing for one that ensures tighter border security.

Unexpectedly, Obama used the State of the Union to publicize his intention to raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour, versus the current wage of $7.25 and hour.

He addressed foreign affairs concerns, noting the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, while citing the continuous threat of terrorist groups in the Middle East and Africa. He gave warnings to North Korea and Iran regarding both country’s nuclear programs. He also declared measures to combat cyber-attacks and extreme worldwide poverty. There was no direct implication of the use of drones in American defense and foreign policy, aside from pledging that “[the country’s] targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and our systems of checks and balances.”

Obama also announced the creation of a non-partisan committee to “improve the voter experience” in the United States; the 2012 presidential election saw unexpected voter turnout and long lines, making voting a five or six hour ordeal.

He turned his attention to gun reform, describing recent victims of gun violence, including the students and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Hadiya Pendleton from Chicago, a girl who died three weeks after preforming in Washington D.C. for the Presidential Inauguration.

He described proposals to impose background checks to prevent criminals from purchasing guns and an assault weapons ban, and called for these bills to be put to a vote.

“Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote,” said Obama. “The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.”

Proponents of guns balked at the President’s suggestions, arguing that there are other ways to ensure safety without limiting access to guns.

“In an hourlong speech, nowhere were the words ‘school safety’ to be found,” said National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre. “Less than two months after saying we had to look at our schools, the president made not one mention, in his entire speech, of the need to improve security for our schoolchildren.”

LaPierre has previously advocated for armed guards in schools.

The Republican Party issued a response to the State of the Union address, given by Florida Senator Marco Rubio; Rubio is considered a rising star in the GOP.

He urged the President to “abandon his obsession with raising taxes” as well as to decrease the size of government, create comprehensive immigration reform while protecting the nation’s borders, and overhaul Medicare.

Obama’s agenda and its numerous controversial proposals undoubtedly face challenges from the Republican Party. Perhaps the result of the impending sequester will serve as a predictor for the President’s ambitious State of the Union proposals successes.

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