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State of the Union: Obama urges Congress to make government work for 'the many'

President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner, delivers his State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday.

President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner, delivers his State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama challenged a divided Congress to back his plans to create middle-class jobs on Tuesday in a State of the Union speech that put a renewed focus on the U.S. economy and sought support for overhauling gun and immigration laws.

Looking to use momentum from his re-election victory last November, Obama vowed to turn much of his attention toward reducing the country's 7.9 percent unemployment rate.

"It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few," he said.

Obama spoke from the well of the House of Representatives for his address to a joint session of Congress in the midst of yet another bitter battle with Republicans over taxes and spending, and this tussle cast a heavy shadow over his appearance.

Even as Obama spoke, House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, accused him of offering "little more than the same stimulus policies that have failed to fix our economy and put Americans back to work."

Boehner's comments came in a statement that was issued while Obama was still delivering his address and the speaker was sitting behind him, at times scowling. "The president had an opportunity to offer a solution tonight and he let it slip by," Boehner said in his statement.

Obama reserved his toughest words to urge a resolution to a festering budget battle that will result in automatic deep spending cuts at the end of the month unless a deal can be reached.

Americans, he said, do not expect government to solve every problem, "but they do expect us to put the nation's interests before party. They do expect us to forge reasonable compromises where we can."

Many of his proposals may face a difficult path getting through Congress. He proposed raising the U.S. minimum wage for workers from $7.25 to $9 an hour. Republicans typically oppose increases in the minimum wage out of worry it will prompt businesses to fire workers.

He backed a $50 billion program to fund infrastructure rebuilding projects like fixing aging bridges, but many Republicans are adamantly against such stimulative government spending after Obama's first-term $787 billion stimulus did not lead to a dramatic reversal in the unemployment rate.

"Our economy is adding jobs, but too many people still can't find full-time employment," he said. "Corporate profits have rocketed to all-time highs, but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged."

Obama said that to offset the cuts he would like to raise $800 billion in revenue by eliminating tax loopholes enjoyed mostly by the wealthiest Americans.

It is a proposal Boehner backed before he reluctantly agreed instead to higher income tax rates on the richest to avert a fiscal crisis at the end of 2012. Republicans are in no mood for more tax increases and want spending cuts instead.

"The American people have worked too hard, for too long, rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected officials cause another," Obama said.

GUN REGULATIONS

Obama urged Congress to approve his proposals for tighter gun regulations, requiring background checks for all gun purchasers, and banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.

In the House chamber for the speech, seated with Obama's wife, Michelle, were the parents of a Chicago teenager, Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot to death a week after participating in the president's second-term inaugural activities.

"Hadiya's parents ... are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote," Obama said.

Obama urged lawmakers to approve over the next few months an overhaul of immigration laws to permit a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million illegal immigrants. Republicans who saw Hispanics overwhelmingly vote for Obama over Republican challenger Mitt Romney last November, are more open to new immigration rules but want stronger border security first.

The clock is now ticking on Obama. He has about a year to get his legislative priorities enacted before Americans shift attention to the 2014 congressional elections.

In a nod to Republican worries over what they see as out-of-control government spending on entitlement programs for the elderly and poor, Obama said he would back efforts to reduce healthcare spending by the same amount over a decade as proposed by a bipartisan commission whose recommendations he had rejected.

He vowed to take action to confront climate change through presidential executive orders unless Congress enacts legislation.

While heavily focused on domestic policies, Obama's speech had some crucial foreign policy elements.

He outlined steps to unwind U.S. involvement in the unpopular 11-year-old Afghanistan war and plans to announce that 34,000 of the 66,000 U.S. troops still there will return by early 2014.

He did not give details of what sort of residual American presence might remain in Afghanistan after 2014, when the U.S. withdrawal is supposed to be complete.

Obama's speech came a day after North Korea conducted its third underground test of a nuclear device in response to what it called U.S. hostility."Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats," he said.

Obama said the United States would enter into negotiations with the European Union aimed at reaching a transatlantic free trade agreement.

Comments

JV 1 year, 10 months ago

The printed edition of today's Gwinnett Daily reads "Obama seeks to end divide". and is written by an AP correspondent. Why the difference?

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FordGalaxy 1 year, 10 months ago

Raising minimum wage to $9 will not exactly help the economy. Causing labor rates to rise will mean companies will increase the price of their goods or services to maintain profitability. And if you're going to argue that a person can't raise a family on minimum wage, then I would say you're right. Perhaps people should make better life choices than trying to have children they can't afford.

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trooper59 1 year, 10 months ago

While I would agree that nobody on minimum wage should have children, I challenge you to solve the problems of: 1. Parents that have lost their jobs and now work for minimum wage for lack of better options. 2. Young people hoping to move up in life, but are underqualified and competing for jobs with #1. 3. Anyone working in an industry that has been impacted by use of outsourced or illegal labor.

Not everyone is living above their means. Some people are just screwed for lack of better options.

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notblind 1 year, 10 months ago

And it's gooberment at all levels that is doing the screwing.

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trooper59 1 year, 10 months ago

Not exactly. I won't applaud the government's performance during the economic crash, but you cannot blame them for the issue. The recession was caused by the third of our economy that makes up the financial industry - banks, Wall Street, etc. They were the ones that built entire fortunes based on toxic funds and debts they knew were bad.

And it's the private industry that keeps hiring out illegal labor and outsourcing jobs. Each business owner that uses either or both methods will defend themselves, declaring that they're resorting to the only means that allows them to be profitable. But that does not change the fact that they are giving American jobs to non-Americans.

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notblind 1 year, 10 months ago

The gooberment enables the financial industry and private industry to do the things you mention. The gooberment does NOT represent the taxpayers of this country, it represents the business elite that are gutting the middle class.

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FordGalaxy 1 year, 10 months ago

Agreed that not everyone is living above their means (although there is a strong argument that the federal government of our nation has been living above its means for several years now). But raising minimum wage will cause the price of goods/services to rise. If that happens, then you'll once again have pandering politicians saying we should again raise minimum wage, again causing the price of goods/services to rise, and it becomes a cyclical game of self-defeat.


Yes, sometimes people lose their jobs. Such is a sad fact of life in a capitalist society. Some people who lose their jobs have a hard time finding work because they're not trained to the specifics required in modern industry. Like technology, industry grows rapidly, and a person has to keep themselves updated or they could find themselves on the outside looking in.

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R 1 year, 10 months ago

Or not speaking Spainish ...

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kevin 1 year, 10 months ago

those on minimum wage collect thousands in other benefits that the taxpayers pay for.

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BuzzG 1 year, 10 months ago

President Obama never mentioned the $17 trillion in debt we have now run up. I guess he does not realize that his crazy spending is emptying out the Social Security trust fund as well as bankrupting Medicare. We are handing a big bill to future generations and Obama will not even mention it.

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trooper59 1 year, 10 months ago

You can't pin the debt issue entirely on Obama.

Social Security can pay full benefits through 2033 without any changes. As things stand it's looking at Disability Insurance and Old-Age and Survivors Insurance are going to be the first hit by any funding issues. Unfortunately you cannot prop up those two pieces of Social Security without increasing revenue or cutting spending, and crafting a tax plan that boosts Social Security's dwindling funds without using money taken from the very people it's designed to help would place most of the tax burden on the wealthy - which will never get pushed through congress.

Medicare is in a similar position.

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MissDaisyCook 1 year, 10 months ago

You can certainly blame Obama for not fixing it.
My Daddy once told me you can't drink yourself sober or spend yourself out of debt. We have plenty of tax revenue coming in; we (the administration) overspends on bloated, inefficient, unnecessary, and corrupt governmental programs.

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BurritoJones 1 year, 10 months ago

Exactly which programs do you feel are bloated and need to be cut or eliminated?

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FordGalaxy 1 year, 10 months ago

Burrito - Back in August of 2011, President Obama was interviewed by CBS's Anthony Mason. During the interview, the president delivered this line "Here we're talking about closing some loopholes in the tax code, making some modest adjustments in entitlements, paring back a little bit on programs that don't work." It seems to me that the administration already has an idea that there are some programs that don't work. However, instead of cutting or restructuring these programs, the President wanted to "par[e] back a little bit." That, I would argue, is the definition of inefficiency. You know something isn't working, but we're just going to cut back a little on it. After all, we can claim that we're legally mandated to spend money and one of our key party members is the head of the program. (Note, please, that this applies to Democrats and Republicans alike.)

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FordGalaxy 1 year, 10 months ago

According to Steny Hoyer (D-MD) we don't have a spending problem. We simply have a paying for" problem. We know exactly what we're spending, we jsut can't pay for it. Brilliant!

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suedehead 1 year, 10 months ago

It seems that many of you have the answers to fix our problems, yet I rarely see a fresh face run office. Why not throw your hat in the ring? Oh yeah I forgot, it's easier to complain rather than do something about it.

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FordGalaxy 1 year, 10 months ago

Actually, suedehead, my friends and I were discussing that prospect jsut last week. The reason most "regular" people don't run for office is that it is prohibitively expensive to mount a campaign (especially at the federal level, if you don't have over $1 million personal money, then you might as well sit down and shut up) and most of us are not willing to toe the party line the way the establishment would expect us to.

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suedehead 1 year, 10 months ago

I agree and fully aware of why the "average Joe" doesn't run. That's what's so frustrating. I believe I (and many others) would vote for a viable candidate just for the sole reason that they are new. Also, the media is so intent on finding "dirt" on a candidate, who'd want to put themselves through that type of scrutiny?

My comment is directed to those that want to blame everything on Obama (or Bush, etc.) and forget about Congress, who have a much bigger effect on our lives.

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R 1 year, 10 months ago

Suggested edit Media digging up dirt - SELECTIVELY - not all dirt digging or vetting is equal.

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John5214 1 year, 10 months ago

Let's face it folks. Obamarama didn't have the experience to manage a Radio Shack at the mall when he was first elected. Do you really think he is going to solve all the country's problems now?

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kevin 1 year, 10 months ago

Just remember that every time speaks the word government, like in government stimulas, government subsidies, and government everything else, that means the taxpayer. He avoids using the word "taxpayer" whenever he speaks about more spending. This just means taxing the middle class, which makes up 55% of the working force, 5% upper income workers, owners, and 40% that do nothing but get refunds and other free benefits at our expense. In other words, Obama is redistributing the working class' earnings so our take-home checks keep getting smaller and smaller. Anyone have a problem with redistribution of our earnings to others that do nothing for it? I guess not since he was re-elected. You reap what you sow. ( no comments from Liberals yet? wow)

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Why_not 1 year, 10 months ago

Other than the FICA withholding going back to where it originally should be, I don't think taxes have gone up on the middle class. If you think it has, please provide examples because I am in the middle class and my taxes have not increased at all. I do not think anyone that makes more than $400,000 a year would be considered working class.

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news2me 1 year, 10 months ago

You must not be middle / working class.

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news2me 1 year, 10 months ago

please provide examples because I am in the middle class and my taxes have not increased at all.


You do realize that you basically gave away your approximate income level, all while asking for examples? FICA is a tax as well. Are going to reply and give up your income, since you feel you need everyone else's examples. C'mon, we insist you show us your example first!

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ammom1 1 year, 10 months ago

Your headline on the article about the State of the Union address was extremely misleading and biased. The president has no interest in ending divisions in this country -- he seeks to increase them to his benefit.

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JV 1 year, 10 months ago

Hey, no problems. He won’t add a dime to our deficit. Oh please, allow me to a be a bit partisan.

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BSMITH97 1 year, 10 months ago

Don't drink the Obama kool aid like Colin Powell did. You will start thinking Obama is a genius also.

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R 1 year, 10 months ago

The President just forgets that he’s NOT ol’ Blue Eyes sometimes, because he always wants it done His way ..

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