President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address touched on most every major topic concerning the American public today, with a strong focus on how he believes he can help the middle class. Plans were proposed, points were made, and accomplishments were touted.
The President’s speech began with his recap of the past six years, and how things have changed in the country since the turn of the century.
“Tonight, we turn the page,” the President said. “Tonight, 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.”
Touting economic improvement and the conclusion of the war in Afghanistan under his leadership, Obama’s opening statement ended with a bold sentiment: “The shadow of crisis has passed, and the state of the union is strong.”
With gas prices down, the GDP increasing five percent, Wall Street reaching all-time highs, and the unemployment rate dropping, many Americans have been feeling more optimistic about the direction of the country economically. The President’s approval rating is even at an 18-month high, with a majority of Americans saying they trust the President’s vision for moving the country forward economically.
Despite the growth, however, middle class Americans have yet to experience the benefits of an improving economy. Last night’s speech addressed that problem, with the President laying out his ideas for expanding and creating middle class growth. Both parties have offered their own proposals for such growth, but Obama’s calls for significant measures to be taken with tax reform, education, and jobs in order to accomplish such growth.
“Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?” he said. “Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”
Obama’s plan to help the middle class involves tax hikes for the wealthy, including the closing of the trust fund loophole and liability fees for banks. The proposal would raise $320 billion over the next 10 years, and the funds would go towards universal child care, tax credits for working families, and a plan that would offer two years of community college to students for free. Obama insisted that his policies work, and remained optimistic despite opposition and hesitation from the GOP-controlled Congress.
“Middle-class economics works. Expanding opportunity works. And these policies will continue to work as long as politics don’t get in the way,” he said.
Obama’s optimism might be due, in part, to recent warnings towards Republicans that he plans to defend his policies in his last two years in office, even threatening to use the veto pen more often.
“We can’t slow down businesses or put our economy at risk with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns,” he said in the address. “We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto.”
The address also focused on trade, with the President calling on both parties to give him trade promotion authority and work towards stronger trade deals.
“21st century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas. Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages,” he said. "But as we speak, China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. That would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage. Why would we let that happen? We should write those rules. We should level the playing field. That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.”
Despite earlier threats to veto Republican attempts to block his proposals, President Obama acknowledged near the conclusion of the address the public’s desire for an end to partisan fighting and divisive governing. He called on both parties to begin working together to solve the problems facing America.
“Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns. Imagine if we did something different,” he said. “A better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine.
“A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other,” Obama continued, “where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives.”
The address ended with Obama reiterating his goals for the next two years, and how his vision has remained intact since he was first elected. He even broke from his prepared speech when, after saying he “had no more campaigns to run,” the room erupted in cheers. “I know because I won both of them!” he ad-libbed.
“Fifteen years into this new century, we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and begun again the work of remaking America. We’ve laid a new foundation,” the President concluded. “A brighter future is ours to write. Let’s begin this new chapter – together – and let’s start the work right now.”