Obama challenges Republicans in State of Union speech
Obama strikes defiant tone with Republicans in big speech.
Barack Obama sought to rally a hostile Congress behind an uncompromising vision of a more equal America on Wednesday in a State of the Union address remarkable for its broad appeal for national unity – if rather less memorable for its new policy proposals. WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama struck a defiant tone for his dealings with the new Republican-led Congress on Tuesday, calling on his opponents to raise taxes on the rich and threatening to veto legislation that would challenge his key decisions.The president circled back to the themes of change and unity that he campaigned on during his first presidential race as he defended the promises he made then and policies he believes have, and will, deliver. “My only agenda for the next two years is the same as the one I’ve had since the day I swore an oath on the steps of this Capitol: to do what I believe is best for America,” he said. Some highlights from Obama’s proposals: —TAX HIKES: Raise the top capital gains rate on couples with incomes above $500,000 to 28 percent, the rate under President Ronald Reagan. A glance last night across the ashen Republican faces in a Congress controlled by Mr Obama’s rivals leaves little doubt that the progressive goals he set out last night have little chance of passing.
It is now time, he told lawmakers and millions watching on television, to “turn the page” from recession and war and work together to boost those middle-class Americans who have been left behind. Republican lawmakers have said that they are prepared to work with him to pass such a measure, if he sends a proposal up to Capitol Hill. “Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group,” he said. After exhausting a laundry list of proposals trotted out over the last week, Obama acknowledged criticisms of his presidency turning to focus on his legacy. “Over the past six years, the pundits have pointed out more than once that my presidency hasn’t delivered on this vision [of unity],” said Obama. “I still think the cynics are wrong. He reaffirmed US solidarity with the victims of the December 16 terrorist attack on Army Public School in Peshawar as he underlined his administration’s determination to fight terrorists. “We stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris,” the US president said that with the lawmakers on the Capitol Hill greeting his anti terror resolve with applause. “The US will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks and we reserve the right to act unilaterally as we’ve done relentlessly since I took office to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to us and our allies,” he said.
The president also ruled out a few areas of negotiation: He said that attempts to roll back Obamacare, or reduce regulations on Wall Street or new sanctions against Iran would earn his veto. By declaring the end of an era of foreign wars and financial crisis and the beginning of “a new chapter,” a confident Mr Obama claimed credit for the wind-down of unpopular conflicts and the economic crisis. I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long.” Yet the more he called for unity, the less he seemed to get it. While veto threats and unserious proposals may make for good political theater, they will not distract this new American Congress from our focus on the people’s priorities.” — House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare. Any attempt to increase sanctions on Iran while negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear programme are still under way would also be rejected, he said.
In this respect he referred to the security transition in Afghanistan. “Instead of Americans patrolling the valleys of Afghanistan we’ve trained their security forces who’ve now taken the lead and we’ve honored our troops sacrifice by supporting that country’s first democratic transition. In sum, Obama appeared liberated: no longer having to face American voters again after his election victories in 2008 and 2012, a point that he reminded Republicans about. “I have no more campaigns to run,” Obama said. Instead of sending large ground forces overseas we are partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America.” “Washington is demonstrating the power of American strength and diplomacy.
Mr Obama made no reference to the election hammering that Democrats took in November’s midterm elections and mostly ignored the political reality that he must broker deals with his opponents. But there were no policy prescriptions for campaign finance reform, constitutional amendments, or even the defiance to work around Congress that characterised last year’s address when Obama promised executive action in place of stalled legislation. We are upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small by opposing Russian aggression supporting Ukraine’s democracy and reassuring our NATO allies. Given that Republicans are unlikely to approve $320 billion of tax increases that penalise their supporters, Mr Obama’s bold declarations and proposals around “middle-class economics” are unlikely to break the pattern of partisan gridlock that paralysed the last Congress. We need to hear the one with proposals that Congress might actually do, working with the president.” Alexander did cite two issues that he said he hoped Republicans could work with the president on: preventing cyberattacks and expanding free trade.
Last year as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Putin’s aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength. But even if Obama’s wealth redistribution proposals are anathema to Republicans, they could be forced to consider alternative ways to tackle income inequality and prove they can govern, which could be a factor for Americans as they consider whether to elect a Republican as president in 2016. The speech can be seen as Mr Obama’s attempt to consolidate a legacy as an agent of change, or at least at attempted change in the face of obstructionist Republicans.
And many of you have told me that this isn’t what you signed up for – arguing past each other on cable shows, the constant fundraising, always looking over your shoulder at how the base will react to every decision,” said Obama. “Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns. And his moves could give an assist to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the overwhelming favourite for the Democratic presidential nomination if she decides to run. Potential Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, who Obama defeated in 2012, and Jeb Bush responded quickly to the speech in Facebook postings, saying Obama was trying to use the tax code to divide people.
Obama also promoted his administration’s efforts to revive relations with Cuba after 50 years of hostility. “Our shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere; removes a phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba; stands up for democratic values; and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” he said. “And this year, Congress should begin the work of ending the embargo – on Cuba,” he said. Mr Obama’s speech felt in parts like a farewell address defending his track record and long-held policy positions that he has no interest in compromising and which Republicans have no interest in passing. Many Republicans rapidly headed for the exit, and waiting reporters in the so-called “spin room”, the second the president finished his hour-long address, while the White House chose to publish the full speech online before president even entered the room. He defended his decision in December to seek to normalise relations with Communist-ruled Cuba and urged Congress to lift the more than 50-year-old U.S. economic embargo against Havana.
Free from the constraints of election politics and a weak economy, Mr Obama at times gave the sense of a president with nothing to lose, goading Republicans for opposing a raise in the minimum wage. “To everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: if you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it,” he said. In the new Congress, key Republicans have called on the president to propose legislation as a framework for negotiations, arguing that previous bills were created in that way. He called on lawmakers to pass a new authorization of military force against Islamic State militants to replace powers that were given to President George W.
Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran.” “That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress,” he said, referring to an interim accord under which Tehran has frozen its uranium enrichment in return for limited sanctions relief. The president agreed to their request Tuesday evening, telling assembled lawmakers: “I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against [ISIS].” The devil is in the details: Should Congress authorize force targeted just at ISIS or broaden it to include other terrorist groups? Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “Instead of rewarding repressive, anti-American regimes like Cuba and Iran with undeserved concessions that legitimize and enrich them, (Obama) should condition normalized relations on real, irreversible results that protect U.S. national security interests, safeguard human rights and ensure greater political freedoms.” — Sen. There was a even a nod to a long-stalled Nasa mission to Mars, which Obama said would soon see a major milestone when a US astronaut spends a year on the international space station to test the effects of long-term human habitation in space.
Obama reprised a promise he made when he first took office and vowed an unrelenting effort to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where foreign terrorism suspects have been held since 2002. —RETIREMENT SAVINGS: Boost retirement savings by automatically enrolling people without access to a workplace retirement plan in an Individual Retirement Account.
He had a message for both Democrats and Republicans on trade, where he wants to complete trade deals with Asia and Europe to create more export-related jobs. Warning that China wants to “write the rules for the world’s fastest growing region,” Obama said both parties should give him the trade authority as a way of protecting American workers, “with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.”
—CYBERSECURITY: Call for legislation enabling information-sharing between the private sector and U.S. agencies like the Homeland Security Department. Still, they have held out some hope of getting tax reform done this year—if the president’s messages of tax hikes for the wealthy is merely a starting point for negotiations rather than his end goal. “There’s great interest, among out members, on tax reform,” Sen.
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