Obama pushes jobs, infrastructure in State of the Union speech
BY JULIE PACE Associated Press
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
2/13/13 at 7:37 AM
Related story: Oklahoma lawmakers critical of State of the Union speech.
WASHINGTON - Uncompromising and politically emboldened, President Barack Obama urged a deeply divided Congress on Tuesday night to embrace his plans to use government money to create jobs and strengthen the nation's middle class. He declared Republican ideas for reducing the deficit "even worse" than the unpalatable deals Washington had to stomach during his first term.
In his first State of the Union address since winning re-election, Obama conceded economic revival is an "unfinished task," but he claimed clear progress and said he was seeking to build on it as he embarks on four more years in office.
"We have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is strong," Obama said, speaking before a joint session of Congress and a television audience of millions.
In specific proposals for his second term, an assertive Obama called for increased federal spending to fix the nation's roads and bridges, the first increase in the minimum wage in six years and expansion of early education to every American 4-year-old. Seeking to appeal for support from Republicans, he promised that none of his proposals would increase the deficit "by a single dime."
In the Republican response to Obama's address, rising GOP star Marco Rubio of Florida came right back at the president, saying his solution "to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more."
Obama also announced new steps to reduce the U.S. military footprint abroad, with 34,000 American troops withdrawing from Afghanistan within a year. And he had a sharp rebuke for North Korea, which launched a nuclear test just hours before his remarks, saying, "Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further."
Despite the pressing foreign policy concerns, jobs and growth dominated Obama's prime-time address, underscoring the degree to which the economy remains a vulnerability for the president and could disrupt his plans for pursuing a broader agenda, including immigration overhaul, stricter gun laws and climate change legislation.
Standing in Obama's way is a Congress that remains nearly as divided as it was during the final years of his first term, when Washington lurched from one crisis to another.
The president implored lawmakers to break through partisan logjams, asserting that "the greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next."
"Americans don't expect government to solve every problem," he said. "They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can."
Yet Obama offered few signs of being willing to compromise himself, instead doubling down on his calls to create jobs by spending more government money and insisting that lawmakers pay down the deficit through a combination of targeted spending cuts and tax increases. But he offered few specifics on what he wanted to see cut, focusing instead on the need to protect programs that help the middle class, elderly and poor.
He did reiterate his willingness to tackle entitlement changes, particularly on Medicare, though he has ruled out increasing the eligibility age for the popular benefit program for seniors.
Republicans are ardently opposed to Obama's calls for legislating more tax revenue to reduce the deficit and offset broad automatic spending cuts - known as the sequester - that are to take effect March 1.
Obama broke little new ground on two agenda items he has pushed vigorously since winning re-election: overhauling the nation's fractured immigration laws and enacting tougher gun control measures in the wake of the horrific massacre of school children in Newtown, Conn. Yet he pressed for urgency on both, calling on Congress to send him an immigration bill "in the next few months" and insisting lawmakers hold votes on his gun proposals.
"Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress," he said. "If you want to vote no, that's your choice."
Numerous lawmakers wore green lapel ribbons in memory of those killed in the December shootings in Connecticut. Among those in the House gallery: the parents of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, shot and killed recently in a park just a mile from the president's home in Chicago, as well as other victims of gun violence.
On the economy, Obama called for raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 by 2015. The minimum wage has been stagnant since 2007, and administration officials said the increase would strengthen purchasing power. The president also wants Congress to approve automatic increases in the wage to keep pace with inflation.
Education also figures in Obama's plans to boost American competitiveness in the global economy. Under his proposal, the federal government would help states provide pre-school for all 4-year-olds. Officials did not provide a cost for the pre-school programs but said the government would provide financial incentives to help states.
Obama also called on Congress to tackle the threat of climate change, another issue that eluded him in his first term. The president pledged to work with lawmakers to seek bipartisan solutions but said if Capitol Hill doesn't act, he'll order his Cabinet to seek steps he can take using his presidential powers.
Taking a swipe at those who question the threat of global warming, Obama said, "We can choose to believe that superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science - and act before it's too late."
Original Print Headline: Obama pushes jobs, infrastructure
Some of President Barack Obama's proposals:
JOBS: Partner with businesses and communities to invest in American-made technologies through a network of Manufacturing Innovation Institutes, three of which Obama said he will create by executive order. Eliminate tax breaks that encourage companies to move jobs outside the U.S., and rewrite the tax code.
HOUSING: Spend $15 billion to help communities awash in foreclosed and vacant properties rebuild while creating construction jobs.
MINIMUM WAGE: Increase the federal minimum wage, currently $7.25 an hour, to $9 in stages by the end of 2015, and allow for automatic increases to keep pace with inflation.
GUN CONTROL: Ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds, require background checks for all firearms purchases and increase access to mental health services.
IMMIGRATION: Continue to tighten the border, crack down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, establish a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country without, and streamline the immigration system for families, workers and businesses.
EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION: Provide access to a high-quality preschool for all children from families with low or moderate incomes.
INFRASTRUCTURE: Spend $50 billion on a "Fix It First" program for urgent repairs to roads, bridges and railways.
EDUCATION: Launch a competition to help redesign and modernize high schools, and create a corps of 10,000 of the nation's brightest science and math teachers to improve instruction in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, gestures as he gives his State of the Union address Tuesday. CHARLES DHARAPAK/Associated Press
President Barack Obama leaves after giving his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. JACQUELYN MARTIN/Associated Press