U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the nation Tuesday night in his fifth State of the Union speech, focusing on growing the middle class, expanding domestic clean energy production and enacting stricter gun control laws.
Obama opened his speech reflecting on the last four years, saying the nation had come a long way economically.
“Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger,” he said.
Then the economy took center-stage as Obama spoke of continuing job growth, recognizing that employment numbers are coming back to America.
“Our economy is adding jobs — but too many people still can’t find full-time employment,” he said. “It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth — a rising, thriving middle class.”
Proposing a partial solution the economic struggles of the middle class, Obama turned to the minimum wage, advocating for a large jump from the current $7.25 limit.
“I want to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour,” he said. As expected, Obama addressed the deficit, assuring Americans that progress is being made to reduce the national debt.
“Both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion — mostly through spending cuts, but also by raising tax rates on the wealthiest one percent of Americans,” he said. “But deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan.
We must continue growing an economy that creates good middle-class jobs.”
Obama then shifted his speech toward the environment, stressing that recent climatic events like Hurricane Sandy and nationwide water droughts were not freak incidents, but signs of climate change.
“We must do more to combat climate change,” Obama said. “We can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science — and act before it’s too late”.
Obama said growth within the clean energy industry is crucial, not only to secure a healthy environment for future generations, but also to keep America globally competitive.
“Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America,” he said. “Solar energy gets cheaper by the year — so let’s drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.”
In light of the numerous gun tragedies that have occurred across the country in recent months, Obama closed his State of the Union with a focus on gun control.
“I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence,” he said. “But this time is different. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than 1,000 birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.”
Reactions to the address were mixed across the aisle, with certain talking points energizing opposing parties.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, spoke on behalf of the Republican Party in an issued rebuttal to the address, taking issue with many of Obama’s proposed plans.
“In the short time I’ve been here in Washington, nothing has frustrated me more than false choices like the ones the President laid out tonight,” he said. “The choice isn’t just between big government or big business. What we need is an accountable, efficient and effective government that allows small and new businesses to create middle class jobs.”
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts released a statement in strong support of the president and of his plan to reform the education system and increase gun control.
“President Obama made clear tonight that he will continue fighting to create jobs, rebuild our economy and strengthen America’s middle class,” he said. “All of us should work together to reduce gun violence in our communities and invest in our future — in education, infrastructure and research.”
Obama made several comments asking for congressional cooperation, but Boston University Professor Graham Wilson, head of the Political Science department, said future successful bipartisan cooperation was unlikely.
“Obama has learned that the notion that the Republicans want to compromise is fundamentally displaced,” he said. “He has learned that building bridges and cooperation is not going to happen.”
Despite the looming challenges in the months ahead, Obama closed the address with a call for unity among all Americans.
“We are citizens,” he said. “It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made”.