In a room full of Congress members and other guests, including 2013 Boston Marathon bombings survivor Jeff Bauman and his rescuer Carlos Arredondo, U.S. President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address Tuesday night, pledging to make this a “year of action.”
“That’s what most Americans want — for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations,” he said. “And what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all — the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead.”
Obama said he was committed to creating a Washington, D.C., that serves as an efficient medium for his goals and establishing a strengthened sense of trust between the government and its constituents.
As gun violence numbers spike in Boston, Obama spoke about the issue, vowing to stop the gun-related tragedies that have taken nine lives in Boston since the beginning of January, a number drastically higher than it has been in past years.
“Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day,” he said. “I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors and police officers all over this country who say ‘we are not afraid,’ and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls or schools like Sandy Hook.”
Thomas Whalen, professor of social science at Boston University, said the issue of violence prevention is an important topic for Obama, especially in the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.
“He just wants to relay the fact that we live in a very dangerous world,” he said. “That’s why the controversial NSA program needs to be upheld. A lot of people are upset about phone calls being catalogued, but I have to say that, given the circumstances of the modern world, it’s necessary to maintain national security. It’s just an unfortunate reality.”
Improvement in education, from pre-kindergarten education to graduate school, is one of Obama’s key priorities for the coming year.
“Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy,” he said. “Some of this change is hard. It requires everything from more challenging curriculums and more demanding parents to better support for teachers and new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test. But it’s worth it — and it’s working.”
Obama is also designing plans to help Americans with student debt by capping monthly student loan payments to 10 percent of their income, he said.
“Too many young people entering the workforce today will see the American Dream as an empty promise — unless we do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off for every single American,” he said.
Minimum wage, a topic that activist groups such as Raise Up Massachusetts are pushing to place on the Nov. 2014 ballot, was another a large focus of Obama’s speech.
Since asking Congress to raise minimum wage one year ago, 5 states have passed their own laws, he said.
“In the coming weeks, I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty,” he said.
Following the State of the Union address, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) delivered the official Republican response, sharing a “hopeful Republican vision” that promises action and results.
Pointing out the flaws in Obama’s plan to close the income inequality gap, McMorris Rodgers spoke of a gap in equality opportunity.
“We see this gap growing every single day,” she said. “Our mission, not only as Republicans, but as Americans is to ensure that we are not bound by what we come from but empowered by what we can become. That is the gap Republicans are trying to close. It’s the gap we all face between where we are and where we want to be.”
Working to close a different gap, the one between the politicians in the Congress, Obama encouraged the country to promote justice, fairness and equality.
“If we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow, I know it’s within our reach.”