Obama: "The Idea of America Endures."
President Barack Obama delivered the second State of the Union Address of his presidency January 25 to a divided Congress. The main points of his speech included the economy, education, innovation, and bipartisan cooperation.
Because the mid-term elections gave Republicans control of the House, Obama focused upon the need for bipartisan support. As a symbol of that support, some lawmakers chose to sit with members of the opposing party. The act, an idea of Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.), was unprecedented; for over 100 years, lawmakers have sat divided at State of the Union Addresses.
“What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow… That’s what the people who sent us here expect of us,” said Obama.
While the idea showed a desire for bipartisanship, a majority of the 535 members of Congress did not participate.
In light of the recent tragedy in Tucson, the President mentioned Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who is recovering from gunshot wounds.
“…we’re also mindful of the empty chair in this chamber, and we pray for the health of our colleague and friend…” he said.
“…Tucson went on to remind us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater,” he added. “Something more consequential than party or political preference.”
Many gun-control advocates later criticized the President for not using the tragedy in his speech to lobby for tougher gun laws. Among the groups that were critical included the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. A Jan. 31 Tweet from the group read, “Hold President Obama to his promise to speak out about our nation’s insane gun laws!”
As most Americans are concerned with the state of the economy, Obama explained that the stock market has rebounded from what he called “the worst recession that many of us have ever known.” He went on to claim that tax cuts are responsible for helping along businesses with new investments, and that more than a million jobs in the private sector were added last year.
Education was another of Obama’s key points, and he made several references to global competition, naming China and India as some of America’s strongest competitors.
“When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance. But too many schools don’t meet this test,” he said. “The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.”
Obama used the topic of education to discuss illegal immigration, calling for an end to the deportation of students who are the children of undocumented immigrants, many of whom are deported after they’ve received advanced degrees here. “It makes no sense,” he said
Calling the issue of illegal immigration a difficult one, Obama stated that he wished to work with Democrats and Republicans both to protect the borders, and to address the issue of millions of undocumented workers who are currently living in the United States.
In terms of technological innovation, The President called for Americans to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” He added that the government needs to assist companies in basic research, which in turn will spur technological advances.
Obama also tackled the subject of the crumbling infrastructure.
“We’ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges,” he said.
The President proposed to pay for this work by private investment. He also insisted that all infrastructure projects be chosen according to what is best for the economy, not by politicians.
The President touched briefly upon the health care debate, stating that he was more than willing to listen to ideas in how to fix the situation.
‘What I’m not willing to do is to go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone’s coverage because of a preexisting condition,” he said.
Another hot-button issue is the national deficit. Obama claimed that the overspending began many years before he took office, and proposed a five year freeze on domestic spending. He admitted that many of the cuts were going to be painful.
“I recognize that some in this chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without,” said Obama. “But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.”
He went on to discuss reducing health care costs, and strengthening Social Security. The President also reinforced his idea that extensions of tax cuts for the wealthy should not be made permanent. He said that it was not meant as a punishment for their success, but a means of promoting America’s success. In addition, he plans to attempt to simplify the individual tax code.
Discussing the situation in Iraq, Obama stated that members of the armed forces have left that country proudly, having done their jobs well. He also claimed that the people of Afghanistan are safer today because of American troops, and that the Afghan government will soon be capable of self-reliance. In July, he plans to begin the process of bringing troops home from the region.
The President is also calling for new alliances with nations like Chile, Brazil, and El Salvador, and will be traveling to those countries in March. He stressed the importance of cooperation with other nations, and also the importance of enforcing tighter sanctions on countries that refuse to abandon a commitment to nuclear weapons.
Obama closed his speech by recognizing business owner Brandon Fisher, whose small company in Berlin, PA designed and built the drilling equipment that would eventually rescue the trapped miners in Chile.
“From the earliest days of our founding,” said Obama, “America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future.”