WASHINGTON -- He came to office promising to end wars abroad and Tuesday President Barack Obama began his State of the Union address with references to the military, portraying it as an institution that exceeded expectations when others let the country down.
That model of working together despite differences is one that he urged the nation -- and a deeply divided Congress -- to follow, as well.
The mission Mr. Obama described in his Tuesday night address was of restoring a country built on "the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement."
But he made it clear that if Congress wasn't going to join in his call for working together, he would chart his own course toward an economic recovery.
He'll need a lot of cooperation -- perhaps more than Republicans will offer to a Democratic president facing re-election.
"I will work with anyone in this chamber ... but I intend to fight obstruction with action," Mr. Obama said.
He said the task ahead will require cooperation and teamwork from every corner of the nation.
And noting that manufacturing, particularly the auto industry, has made a recovery, thanks in part to an investment by the government, he said other sectors of the industry can do the same.
"We bet on American workers. We bet on American ingenuity. And tonight, the American auto industry is back.
What's happening in Detroit can happen in other industries. It can happen in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Raleigh. We can't bring back every job that's left our shores."
He asked businesses to bring jobs back from overseas and states to require teen-agers to stay in school until graduation or age 18. He asked Congress to approve tax credits, and millionaires to pay higher taxes. He asked community colleges to partner with businesses to offer job training and he asked universities to hold the line on tuition or risk losing federal dollars.
Domestic energy development plays a crucial role in the recovery, and that's good news for Pennsylvania, where natural gas drilling is proliferating in the Marcellus Shale.
"Our experience with shale gas shows us that the payoffs on these public investments don't always come right away. Some technologies don't pan out; some companies fail," he said. "But I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy," he said to applause, mostly from fellow Democrats.
Mr. Obama said he would direct his administration to allow energy development on public lands.
"Nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made energy." he said. "This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy -- a strategy that's cleaner, cheaper and full of new jobs."
And natural gas development is an energy source that is abundant and which will provide jobs, he said.
"We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one hundred years, and my Administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. And I'm requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use. America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk."
Mr. Obama said his blueprint for strengthening the economy depends on strengthening the middle class.
"We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules," he said.
He proposed a plan that makes it easier for responsible homeowners to refinance at low interest rates. He would finance it through an assessment on big banks.
"A small fee on the largest financial institutions will ensure that it won't add to the deficit, and will give banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust," he said. Saying he wanted to pursue policies of "no handouts, no bailouts and no copouts," he called for "smart regulation" to prevent irresponsible behavior.
He also urged Congress to extend tuition tax breaks, to extend tax credits to companies that bring overseas jobs back to America and to extend the payroll tax cut without delay.
He called for a new minimum effective tax rate for the wealthy, with a reference to billionaire Warren Buffett.
"Tax reform should follow the Buffett rule: If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes." He said he was willing to reform Medicaid and Social Security as long as they remain guaranteed, but that in return tax reform must be done.
He took on the Republican critique of his approach head-on, saying, "Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense."
He vowed he would not go back to days when health insurers could cancel policies with impunity, or Wall Street companies make risky deals with the knowledge they'd be bailed out.
He also tackled the gridlock in Washington, D.C., that has frustrated Americans in and out of government.
"The greatest blow to confidence in our economy last year didn't come from events beyond our control. It came from a debate in Washington over whether the United States would pay its bills or not. Who benefited from that fiasco?"
He called on the Senate to pass a rule that all judicial and pubic service nominations receive "a simple up or down vote within 90 days."
He said that the executive branch also needs to change, pledging to consolidate the bureaucracy to make it more efficient and responsive.
In implicit response to his critics, Mr. Obama ticked off military and economic accomplishments and proclaimed, "America is back. Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn't know what they're talking about."
First Published January 25, 2012 5:00 AM