State of the Union: Obama pledges to reignite economy


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President Barack Obama has urged Congress to back government action to revive the sluggish US economy, in his annual State of the Union speech.

The Democratic president promised "smarter" rather than bigger government for "the many, and not just the few".

He also called for action on gun violence, climate change and immigration reform.

In the Republican response, Senator Marco Rubio urged Mr Obama to drop his "obsession" with raising taxes.

Speaking in the House of Representatives, Mr Obama told his audience that his generation's task was "to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth - a rising, thriving middle class".

'North Star'

"We have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is strong,'' Mr Obama said in an hour-long address.

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Those hoping for a more conciliatory tone than this notably aggressive State of the Union speech were disappointed”

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Delivering growth and jobs will be the "North Star that guides our efforts", he added.

But he insisted that nothing he planned would raise the deficit "by a single dime".

Mr Obama proposed reforms to reduce the cost of Medicare, a federal healthcare programme for pensioners, but argued "we can't just cut our way to prosperity".

In his speech, Mr Obama went on to call for federal investment in infrastructure, clean energy and education.

And he vowed to act on climate change himself if Congress failed to enact legislation.

"I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change...," he said.

Watch President Obama's full address

"But if Congress won't act sooner to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."

Mr Obama also said he would reduce by more than half the number of US troops in Afghanistan over the next year.

He asked Congress to raise the minimum wage $7.25 to $9 an hour, called for legislation to ensure women are paid equally to men and announced a commission to improve the voting process.

On gun control, Mr Obama said an "overwhelming" majority of Americans supported "common-sense reform" on firearms, including tighter background checks and restrictions on "weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines".

Republican Senator Rubio: 'I hope the president will abandon his obsession with raising taxes'

And he urged gun-control opponents to allow a vote in Congress on his proposals.

"The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence - they deserve a simple vote," he said.

Conservative divisions

He also praised bipartisan efforts to draw up an immigration reform bill, adding that if he is sent legislation, "I will sign it right away".

House Speaker John Boehner told US media on Wednesday said that immigration was the only issue on Mr Obama's state of the union list that had any chance in Congress this year.

He added he believed the president was more interested in getting a Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress in the 2014 mid-term elections.

Less than a day after North Korea tested a nuclear device, Mr Obama said the US will "lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats".

Mr Obama will take to the road in the coming days to push his economic recovery proposals, stopping in the US states of North Carolina and Georgia and in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, was not impressed by what he called "pedestrian liberal boilerplate".

"An opportunity to bring together the country instead became another retread of lip service and liberalism,'' he said on Wednesday.

US media reaction

The New York Times says Mr Obama "continued trying to define a 21st Century version of liberalism that could outlast his time in office and do for Democrats what Reagan did for Republicans".

Part of that liberalism, the Washington Post says, included Mr Obama's call to "pivot away from the politics of austerity".

Politico called it an "aggressive speech with an even more aggressive message" and says that for the "Republican lawmakers who complain that [President Obama has] been too rough on them already - he's just getting started".

On Senator Marco Rubio's Republican response, Real Clear Politics says he delivered an effective "call for conservatives to govern by their principles and also an appeal to voters who have soured on the GOP in recent years, asking that they give the party another look".

Sen Rubio, a possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate, delivered his party's official riposte.

In it, he attacked Mr Obama's economic policies and said "more government isn't going to help you get ahead, it's going to hold you back".

The Cuban-American senator, who also made his address in Spanish, referred to the pain felt by residents of the working-class neighbourhood in which he grew up.

He told Mr Obama: "I don't oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbours."

The Florida senator also warned the president that the "tax increases and the deficit spending you propose will hurt middle-class families".

Underscoring conservative divisions, immediately after the Rubio speech Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul delivered the Tea Party's rebuttal to Mr Obama's address.

He said both parties had failed voters by driving up trillion-dollar deficits.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    The problem with the Western Worlds economy is that it has been built on credit over the last 50 years. Now you either stop and pay the credit back causing a serious depression or continue borrowing. Either way a depression must occur at some point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    "..he fails to understand growth by seeking a higher minimum wage and higher pay for women."

    You cannot be arguing against higher (ie, EQUAL) pay for women?

    And do you not see that the race to the bottom as far as wages are concerned which you seem to be advocating is going to do nothing for your economy except bring even more poverty and deprivation than you seem to have already?

  • Comment number 139.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    Believe me! With speach like that you going to find it difficult not to like him. You can not disregard the spontaneous flow of standing ovation. I think he is the best thing that has ever heppened to america since bill clinton. He layed it all out there for all americans and the entire world to see, their hope for a change!

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    I would trust Obama to do his best for his country before David Cameron any day of the week. Looking after the rich at the top and big business will not reignite our economy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Obama targets “reigniting” economic growth, but shows he fails to understand growth by seeking a higher minimum wage and higher pay for women. Employers will employ people only when they can contribute to profits. Increased wages means fewer jobs, less competitive firms and slower growth. Those who can not find employment at current wages will find it harder if wages are raised.

  • Comment number 135.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Anyone that knows anything about recessions will already know that this is complete bull. There is nothing that any government can do, or for that matter will want to do to stop or even ease a recession. They are cycle events that are actually necessary, and welcomed by governments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    He asked Congress to raise the minimum wage, called for legislation to ensure women are paid equally to men, and announced a commission to improve the voting process...We need change urgently!
    Minimum wage increased in 2012, we already have equal pay rate legislation and we had a chance to change the voting process in 2011, but "we" (the public) voted against it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    Some say he is gonna be the greatest US pres that ever was and he can see things that no others can see.

    He tells the masses that the American dream that most blacks dream about, is alive and doing well and it will only get better with him as the dear leader in charge.

    He has looked to Hu for a 5 year plan and asked the ghost of JFK for inspiration to change the US and make the dreams real.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    43 Minutes ago
    Do they have VAT in the US? If so, Obama could "kickstart" his economy by reducing it to there's an idea Mr Osbourne.
    Simple answer
    They have "Sales Tax" paid by purchaser at time of sale.
    It varied by State, was(?) between 1 & 10%, 5 States had 0% Sales Tax
    With some exmptions for "Out of State" purchases

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    What a windbag.

    The land of the free has become 'Animal Farm'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    #118 "When most multi-millionaires only pay 15% income tax, there is plenty of scope to increase taxes"

    15% is capital gains tax not income tax and even that is going up to 20%. In UK it is 28% (or 10% in certain circumstances).

    If people pay 15% tax it is because they are not drawing income but cashing in assets such as shares or share options

  • Comment number 128.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    "If Obama manages to implement a fraction of his healthcare plans, he will go down as one of America's greatest ever Presidents."

    Obama will certainly go down as a good President, but not one of the greatest. He has certainly done a lot good things, but he has also done so not-so-good things. For one, his use of drones in the Middle East have been awful (e.g. 'double-tapping' air strikes).

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    A whole load of waffle. Its all talk but there will be no action. America has 16% of the population on food stamps. Its becoming a banana republic, with the highest inequality since the 1920s.With Obama's election campaign funded by Wall street instititions,there is NO likelihood of change.This is propaganda to quell the masses.The only action will be QE, increasing the trickle up of wealth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    America is the most powerful and dynamic capitalist country in the world.
    It's ability to bounce right back from economic setbacks is legendary.
    It has never achieved this through higher taxation. Americans' have a justifiable dislike of the Federal government. Just like other governments they always want your tax money to waste on vanity projects in an attempt to cling to power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    I am so sick of the BBC's obsession with Obama. Didn't the US economy retract in the last quarter? All I ever read is a sycophant's obsession with this man on these pages. Any negative news is buried away. But, you look at the news story underneath about the UK economy growing in 2013 the BBC have managed to spin that round to a mostly negative story where they mostly mention recession. Pathetic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    President Johnson declared a War on Poverty in the 60s ,by the election of President Reagan in 1980, the rich had won.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Do they have VAT in the US? If so, Obama could "kickstart" his economy by reducing it to there's an idea Mr Osbourne.
    They don't, he couldn't, it isn't.
    Your ignorance of basic US tax aside, could you not even bother to look it up before posting? Sadly it's typical of posters on HYS, so don't take it personally.


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