Obama strikes defiant tone with Republicans in big speech

21 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

#IWonBothOfThem trends on Twitter after Obama’s classic retort to Republicans.

Republicans pretty much hated the president’s State of the Union address. Washington – President Barack Obama greeted the new Republican-led Congress with defiance on Tuesday, calling for his opponents to end their resistance to raising taxes on the wealthy and threatening to veto any legislation they approve that would challenge his key decisions. Though the address comes just as many new Republican Senators and Congressman decorate their offices on Capitol Hill, having taken control of the Senate and held on to the House in the recent midterm elections, the president appears reluctant to play the lame duck. Dogged by an ailing economy since the start of his presidency six years ago, Obama appeared before a joint session of Congress and millions of Americans watching on television to declare that his policies have paid off with an economic revival that has trimmed the jobless rate to 5.6%. Attempting to draw a lie under foreign wars and economic crisis, Mr Obama mapped out to an unconvinced Republican Congress a bold vision of progressive economic policies to lift the country’s middle class. “Middle-class economics works,” Mr Obama declared as he pointed to falling unemployment, strong economic growth and shrinking deficits as results that his six years of liberal policies were working.

Tuesday’s speech capped a remarkably activist 11 weeks since Obama suffered the humiliation of Democratic losses that gave Republicans control of both chambers of Congress. It’s about being true to the world.” — Kenya Barris, creator of ABC’s “black-ish,” on the lack of diversity in television shows he watched growing up. He has used his executive powers to shield millions of migrants from deportation, has started to dismantle the (remarkably ineffective) embargo against Cuba, and has made a deal with China to reduce carbon emissions.

An emboldened president, in the penultimate year of his tenure, presented further economic measures aimed at improving income inequality to help the middle class benefit from a resurgent economy. “We are 15 years into this new century – 15 years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world,” he said in the centrepiece speech of the US political calendar. He appealed for “better politics” in Washington and pledged to work with Republicans, even while touting bread-and-butter Democratic economic proposals and vowing to veto GOP efforts to dismantle his signature achievements. “We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix,” Obama said.

But there are some issues the president identified that Republicans have said they could work with him on: authorizing military force in Iraq and Syria, new cybersecurity legislation, tax reform; and approving new free trade agreements. But by calling for higher taxes that Republicans are unlikely to approve and chiding those who suggest climate change is not real, Obama struck a confrontational tone for his final two years in office. The president’s tax plan would also require estates to pay capital gains taxes on securities at the time they’re inherited and slap a fee on the roughly 100 U.S. financial firms with assets of more than $50 billion. And while he offered a nod to bipartisanship on issues such as trade, he pushed a traditional Democratic economic agenda of tax increases for the rich, expanded paid leave for workers and increased aid for education. Obama then continued with his speech and said, “”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.” The President’s classic retort invoked several users on Twitter to post their own versions with the hashtag #IWonBothOfThem trending for a while in the United States.

Mr Obama pressed Congress to vote on paid sick leave for all workers and chastised lawmakers for not passing a law creating equal pay for men and women or an increase in the minimum wage. Instead, he brashly wagged his finger at his critics. “At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would crush jobs and explode deficits,” he said. “Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in 50 years.” The White House is betting that by promoting the economic successes, Obama can boost his governing credibility. But his proposals for wealth redistribution could serve to shape the political debate around the next White House election and could help former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the overwhelming favourite for the Democratic presidential nomination if she decides to run. The president called for trade promotion authority from Congress to agree trade deals with Asia and Europe in one of the few moments in his speech that had Republicans standing to applaud while the president’s fellow Democrats sat silently. By laying credit at the doorstep of his own administration, Obama is looking to gain leverage over Republicans and weaken their resolve to undo his go-it-alone initiatives on immigration, climate change and Cuba.

He called on lawmakers to pass a new authorisation of military force against Islamic State militants to replace powers that were given to President George W Bush to prosecute the Iraq war. The US stood united with people targeted by terrorists, he said, “from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris,” prompting some members of Congress to hold up pencils in solidarity with the victims of the January 7th attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Obama reprised a promise he made when he first took office and vowed an unrelenting effort to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where foreign terrorism suspects have been held since 2002. “It’s time to close Gitmo,” 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. 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?

In the aftermath of the recent damaging computer hacking of Hollywood studio Sony Pictures, Mr Obama asked Congress to pass legislation needed to meet the growing threat from cyber attacks. Rejecting climate change deniers, Mr Obama said the best scientists were saying that human activity was to blame and that without action, climate change would lead to greater migration, conflict and hunger.

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”. In a passing dig at the Republican push for him to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas, Mr Obama called for more far-reaching investment in infrastructure.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday showed Obama with an approval rating of 50 percent, the poll’s highest rating for the president in more than 18 months. The idea of raising the top capital gains and dividends tax rate to 28% from 23.8% is popular with Democrats who are looking beyond Obama’s tenure to the 2016 elections. She spoke about moving away from the “stale mindset” of gridlocked politics between Republicans and Democrats which, she said, “gave us political talking points, not serious solutions” and led to “failed policies like Obamacare,” the president’s health insurance law. Mr Obama addressed political gridlock in his own speech, urging both parties to engage in “better politics,” a kind of interaction “where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears”. “A better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter, and spend more time lifting young people up with a sense of purpose and possibility,” he said.

But the Post-ABC poll shows that Obama’s better standing is largely the result of support coalescing among the groups that backed his presidential campaigns in the first place — Democrats, moderates, Hispanics and younger people. John McCain (R-AZ), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters earlier this month that while members had really hoped for cybersecurity reform, little progress has been made on a bill. “Previous attempts by Republicans to pass such a bill ended in failure—in part due to the president’s unwillingness to sign legislation proposed by the House GOP,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes on Tuesday evening.

So have issues that Obama has pushed that appeal to those groups, including his executive action to shield more than 4 million immigrants from deportation and his call for free community college for all. The president is seeking “trade promotion authority,” or the ability to negotiate trade deals that Congress can either approve or reject but not change. 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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