President seeks middle-class engine of growth
President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, gives his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington.
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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama tonight called on the citizens of the United States to be "the authors of the next great chapter in our American story."
In his State of the Union Address, he invoked an economy stoked by a vigorous middle class as the North Star that must guide the country and called on a nation he called the greatest and wealthiest in the world to live up to its promise.
"Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation," Mr. Obama said in his State of the Union Address. "How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?"
He proposed universal preschool education, better job preparation in high school, increasing green energy and decreasing energy waste, using a share of money from energy development on government land to decrease dependence on foreign oil, creating consortiums of government, universities and private industry to boost manufacturing, starting a "Fix-It-First" program to spur jobs aimed at repairing existing infrastructure rather than building new, increasing the federal minimum wage to $9 by 2015, and reaching out to poor communities. He announced an executive order he'd made earlier in the day to beef up cyber security.
He also put a number on the planned troop drawdown in Afghanistan: 34,000 with a year, about half those now deployed.
And he vowed: "Nothing I'm proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It's not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth."
On other issues he pushed in his Inaugural -- including gun control and immigration -- the president called for work on programs already outlined
Mr. Obama made an impassioned plea for stricter gun laws, including universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons, and let the presence of the parents of a Chicago teenager shot and killed just days after she performed at his inauguration seated with first lady Michelle Obama send a message. In addition, 22 House members invited people affected by gun violence, according to Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., who helped with the effort.
It was an aggressive agenda laid out by a president made more confident by November's better-than-expected election results.
Mr. Obama, whose signature policy so far has been the Affordable Care Act, is seeking to build on this legacy during the small window that comes between a second inaugural and mid-term elections, when the parties of lame duck presidents typically lose seats in Congress.
He is seeking greater investment in clean energy, an increase in the federal minimum wage, making the technology infrastructure more secure, investment in infrastructure and education initiatives.
"The president is not going to get everything he wants, but [Republicans] aren't going to get everything they want either," said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills.
"The State of the Union address is part wish list and part calling on the Congress to work with the executive branch to move the country forward. We've seen so much rancor since the election and all of us hope we can put that behind us and move forward," Mr. Doyle said.
With that rancor expected to continue, the president has issued some of his policy initiatives as executive orders that do not require Congressional approval. Those include increasing cyber security and opening three centers of manufacturing innovation, even as he calls on Congress to create a nationwide network of such business-university partnerships.
That approach troubles Republicans like Congressman Glenn "G.T." Thompson of Centre County.
"I don't think anything he's going to do through the back door like that is going to be well-received. I think there's a general growing distrust of executive orders," Mr. Thompson said. "That's not how we're supposed to operate. If he's got ideas about things we should do that's great, but he needs to figure out a way to work with the legislative branch. He needs to reach out with communications in a collaborative way, and I would absolutely welcome that."
He and other Pennsylvania delegation members, Republicans and Democrats alike, were glad to hear the emphasis on jobs, a focus some found missing from the inaugural address three weeks ago.
"It's about time," Mr. Thompson said. "Now I'm looking forward to what he does tomorrow. Do his actions follow his words?"
Republicans said that the president has allowed other issues -- such as health care reform, gun control and immigration reform -- overshadow job creation, which should be the real priority as the nation recovers from deep recession.
"I haven't heard a lot about jobs" from the president before now, said Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley. "I heard a lot about overhauling the health care system, and I've heard a lot about environmental regulations. Frankly, I have not heard a lot about how to grow jobs and how to grow the economy."
Mr. Doyle said job creation has always been important to Mr. Obama but Tuesday's speech shows he's ready to address it in a more focused way.
"A lot of us have wanted to see the president a lot more personally involved in it. He can call on Congress to do it, but he's got to get out and address it himself, and now he is," Mr. Doyle said.
He noted that the president is taking his jobs plan on tour during three days of public speeches in Asheville, N.C.; Atlanta and Chicago.
"The president has the bully pulpit more than anyone, and he has an ability to move the public to push members of Congress in the direction [of his jobs agenda] and that direction is great," Mr. Doyle said.
The president on Tuesday did not detail how much his initiatives would cost. However, one White House aide told reporters that, taken together with tax reform proposals and with spending reductions the president previously proposed, the policies would not increase spending and would help reduce the deficit.
First Published February 12, 2013 10:16 pm