Obama rides into battle for middle class and low paid
WASHINGTON: The liberal President who emerged from the election and reintroduced himself at last month's inauguration reappeared at the State of the Union address, outlining a second-term agenda that would tax the rich, boost the minimum wage and force action on climate change.
With damaging automatic spending cuts set to begin in just over a fortnight, Barack Obama ignored Republican demands to cut the deficit, instead promising policies to stabilise spending, while increasing revenue by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and maintaining benefits.
''We can't ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful,'' Mr Obama said.
Former US Representative Gabrielle Giffords and her husband former astronaut Mark Kelly. Photo: Bloomberg
Mr Obama was even more aggressive on climate change, insisting that if Congress failed to pass legislation to cut carbon pollution, he would direct cabinet to come up with executive actions his office could take.
As he spoke, he was repeatedly interrupted by ovations from Democrats, while the Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, glowered over his shoulder, offering only occasional applause.
As expected Mr Obama detailed immigration reforms, calling for changes to allow many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants a chance to become citizens - a measure the Republican Party has embraced.
First Lady Michelle Obama applauds. Photo: Bloomberg
More controversially, he said he would pursue an increase in the minimum wage to $9 an hour.
''Working folks shouldn't have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher,'' he said.
On foreign policy, Mr Obama announced a further 34,000 troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of the year and signalled the US would continue its war against terrorism with a far smaller commitment of troops, suggesting drone strikes would remain crucial.
US President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union in front of Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner. Photo: Bloomberg
''We will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali,'' he said.
Mr Obama promised to ''maintain the best military in the world''. Tellingly, in the next breath, he spoke of reducing waste, suggesting the Pentagon would face budget cuts.
The strongest rhetoric of the speech was reserved for gun control. Mr Obama introduced the parents of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot dead in a park in Chicago last week, as he addressed his proposed gun reforms.
Sitting with the first lady, they were among two dozen people affected by gun violence invited to attend, including a police officer shot 12 times responding to a shooting in a Sikh temple.
''They deserve a vote [in Congress],'' Mr Obama said. ''Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.
''The families of Newtown deserve a vote.
''The families of Aurora deserve a vote.
''The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence - they deserve a simple vote,'' he said to swelling tears and cheers within the chamber.