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Updated: May 22, 2013 17:21 IST

Obama lays emphasis on economy; firm on gun control

Narayan Lakshman
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U.S. President Barack Obama. File photo.
AP U.S. President Barack Obama. File photo.

Delivering his fourth State of the Union address to the U.S. Congress, President Barack Obama once again hinted at a strong liberal agenda for his second term. He promised to enact reforms to increase revenue by taxing wealthy Americans; raise the minimum wage to $9 per hour; push for immigration reform and stricter gun control; and pull out 34,000 troops from Afghanistan in the year ahead.

Even as he affirmed that the drawdown in Afghanistan would continue into 2014 and “our war in Afghanistan will be over” by the end of that year, he noted that the U.S. would continue even after that time to train and equip Afghan forces. Mr. Obama appeared to be more open to increased transparency about the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to take out high-value targets affiliated with al-Qaeda.

However the President added that in countries such as Yemen, Libya and Syria, the U.S. could use “a range of capabilities”, that might include drones.

His fiery oratorical style emerged when he spoke of the need for gun control.

Speaking of the victims of gun violence, he said, “They deserve a vote. 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… — they deserve a simple vote.”

Multi-pronged approach

On the primary subject of the economy the President adopted a multi-pronged approach that began with seeking to persuade Congress to come to an agreement on deficit reduction and avoid a trillion-dollar sequestration.While pushing for tax and subsidy reforms, he argued that senior citizens and working families could not be expected to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction “while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and the most powerful”. Comprehensive immigration reform, a subject of significant bipartisan consensus, got top billing too, and Mr. Obama suggested that his policy packages would focus on border security, a “responsible pathway to earned citizenship”, and fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods and the highly-skilled persons to help create jobs and spur growth.

On foreign policy, he asked Iran to choose diplomacy over sanctions; labelled China a clean-energy competitor; expressed concern over the unpredictable political path followed by Egypt; and promised to “keep the pressure on” the regime in Syria. India was not mentioned.

Delivering the Republican Party’s official response to the State of the Union address Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Latino community, warned Americans about Mr. Obama’s plans to increase the size of the government and thus choke out small businesses.

Striking some emotional notes, the man, who has been described as a Republican hopeful for the 2016 presidential elections, argued that reforms to major entitlement programmes such as Medicare were essential if they were to be saved from bankruptcy.

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