In his sixth State of the Union address, President Obama challenged the GOP-majority Congress Tuesday night to break from the “tired old patterns” of argumentative politics to uplift the middle class with more trade deals and higher taxes for the rich.
Obama proposed a $320 billion economic plan that would raise taxes on upper-class families and big banks to ultimately provide expanded tax breaks for the middle class. The plan would also fund new federal programs such as government-paid tuition for community college students.
“America, for all that we’ve endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back, for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this: the shadow of crisis has passed, and the state of the union is strong,” said Obama, for whom the latest polls indicate an approval rating of 50 percent, compared to 53 percent of Americans who say the economy — with lower unemployment and cheaper gas prices that have saved the typical family about $750 this year at the pumps — has definitely improved over the year.
The president trumpeted the revived economy and decreasing unemployment rates, but said the gains can’t end there.
“We are fifteen years into this new century,” Obama said at the beginning of his 40-minute speech. “After a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.”
The president vowed to forge ahead despite almost-certain opposition from the Republican-led Congress.
“The verdict is clear: middle-class economics works,” he said. “Expanding opportunity works. These policies will continue to work — as long as politics don’t get in the way.”
Obama also said he will go to Congress for a new authorization of military force against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
The president said the effort against the terrorist organization, which rose to prominence in the past year, will be time-consuming but imperative.
“But we will succeed,” he said. “And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force.”
Obama touched upon the end of military combat in Afghanistan, saying that while for the first time since 9/11, the United States’s warfare mission there is over. Of the nearly 180,000 American troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, fewer than 15,000 soldiers remain in deployment.
Obama addressed a number of issues, including establishing worker protections, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for citizens in need.
“We gave our citizens schools and colleges, infrastructure and the internet – tools they needed to go as far as their effort will take them,” he said. “That’s what middle-class economics is — the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”
On the matter of ensuring other necessities such as paid sick leave and maternity leave, Obama noted that some 43 million workers lack such benefits, and that as a result, he will take action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own.
Obama also championed higher wages to help more families make ends meet, while urging Congress to pass a law that will enable women to earn the same pay as men for doing the same work.
“To everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it,” he said to resounding applause. “If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.”
Turning his focus to education, Obama noted that by the end of the decade, two in three job openings will require some form of higher education, and that too many citizens cannot afford the kind of education they want.
“It’s not fair to them, and it’s not smart for our future. That’s why I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college — to zero,” he said of his recent initiative to make two-year college degrees available to students willing to put forth the effort.