WASHINGTON — President Obama on Tuesday invoked an economy stoked by a vigorous middle class as the North Star that must guide the country.
In his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress, he called on the nation he said was the greatest and wealthiest in the world to live up to its promise and on its citizens to be “the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.”
“Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation,” Mr. Obama said. “How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?”
He proposed universal preschool education; better job preparation in high school; increasing green energy and decreasing energy waste; using a share of money from energy development on government land to decrease dependence on foreign oil; creating consortiums of government, universities, and private industry to boost manufacturing; starting a “Fix-It-First” program to spur jobs aimed at repairing existing infrastructure rather than building new; increasing the federal minimum wage to $9 by 2015, and reaching out to poor communities. He announced an executive order he’d made earlier in the day to beef up cybersecurity.
He called for tax reform and deficit reduction but said deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan and that job creation was crucial for economic growth.
He urged Congress to put aside brinksmanship “that stresses consumers and scares off investors.”
“The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next. Let’s 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.”
Mr. Obama also put a number on the planned troop drawdown in Afghanistan: “Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. ... And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.”
And he vowed: “Nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It’s not a bigger government we need but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”
Mr. Obama began his speech by saying that after “grinding” war and “grueling” recession, “the grit and determination of the American people” had put the country back on track.
“Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger,” he said.
As he did in his re-election campaign and inaugural address, Mr. Obama emphasized the middle class and reinvigorating the economy by helping the poor move into the middle class, helping the middle class thrive, educating students for jobs, and putting resources into energy and infrastructure.
“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,” he said.
He didn’t put numbers to his proposals. A White House aide told reporters that taken together with tax-reform proposals and with spending reductions the President has previously proposed, the policies would not increase spending and would help reduce the deficit.
On other issues he pushed in his inaugural, including immigration, the President called for more work on programs already outlined.
Mr. Obama made an impassioned plea for stricter gun laws, including universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons, invoking slain teen Hadiya Pendleton, whose parents were seated with First Lady Michelle Obama.
“She was 15 years old,” the President said. “She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.”
Gun-control measures deserve a vote, Mr. Obama said.
“If you want to vote no, that’s your choice,” he said — but the measures deserve a vote. Hadiya, her parents, former Congressman Gabby Giffords, the families of Newtown, the families of Aurora, and other communities affected by gun violence — all deserve a vote, he said.
It was an aggressive agenda laid out by a President made more confident by November’s better-than-expected election results.
Mr. Obama, whose signature policy so far has been the Affordable Care Act, is seeking to build on this legacy during the small window that comes between a second inaugural and midterm elections, when the parties of lame duck presidents typically lose seats in Congress.
He is seeking greater investment in clean energy and education, an increase in the federal minimum wage, making the technology infrastructure more secure, and repairing crumbling infrastructure.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Tracie Mauriello is a reporter for the Post-Gazettte. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Contact Tracie Mauriello at firstname.lastname@example.org