In his State of the Union address to the nation, US President Barack Obama late Tuesday attacked income inequality and defended his trademark policies as he set the tone for his re-election bid.
Obama’s speech in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives emphasized the importance of an income that works for everyone.
With unemployment still above eight percent and economic uncertainty lingering, Obama framed the challenges facing the country as a choice between opportunity for some or giving everyone a chance to prosper.
“The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive,” the president said. “No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”
The speech saw a renewed call for higher taxes on the wealthy, something Republicans strongly oppose.
Obama offered both his administration’s priorities for the coming year and his campaign messaging for his re-election bid in November.
He defended a long list of his trademark policies — tax increases on the wealthy, Wall Street reform, health care reform, government stimulus spending — to applause from fellow Democrats while also offering proposals of interest to Republicans, such as corporate tax breaks and expanded oil and gas development.
The Republican response chided Obama for not addressing the nation’s USD 15 trillion debt more forcefully, presenting a stark contrast in policy proposals and outlook to the president’s more optimistic assessment of what has been accomplished and what is needed.
“It was irresponsible for him not to recognize the dire circumstances our country is in because of our debt,” conservative Sen. Jim DeMint, Republican from South Carolina said. “He spent his speech making some more promises from government.” Obama began and ended the 65-minute speech by praising US troops for unity and teamwork that can serve as a model for facing the country’s problems.
He called for lowering corporate taxes and providing incentives for U.S. manufacturers to bring overseas jobs back to America, while ending tax breaks for businesses that continue to outsource. At the same time, Obama said, every multinational company should pay a basic minimum tax, while giving American manufacturers a tax cut.
“It’s time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America,” Obama said, adding a challenge to Congress he repeated throughout the night to send him a bill that he pledged to sign “right away.”
He also challenged Congress to act on comprehensive immigration reform, a major election-year issue for the important Hispanic-American vote.
Short of a major overhaul, he called for legislation like the “DREAM Act” that provides children of illegal immigrants who go to college or serve in the military a path to possible citizenship.
In response to Republican criticism of his energy policy, Obama said to applause he was ordering his administration to open up 75 percent of potential offshore oil and gas resources.
At the same time, he also said US oil production was at the highest level in eight years, countering GOP claims he was stifling oil development.