Says he is no longer content to wait for Congress to act
The American middle class and its struggle to recover from the harshest economic battering it has faced in recent history was the focus of U.S. President Barack Obama as he delivered a strong State of the Union address to a packed hall in the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill on Tuesday evening.
The President dedicated more than half his speech to this subject, making an impassioned argument that the American Dream, with opportunity for all, had “suffered some serious blows,” and that he was no longer content to wait for Congress to act on issues such as unemployment insurance and the minimum wage.
To this end Mr. Obama used his address to announce that in the coming weeks he proposed to issue “an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour,” higher than the present rate of $7.25.
He also exhorted Congress to restore the unemployment insurance “you just let expire for 1.6 million people.”
In the context of middle class welfare policies, he stoutly defended the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the landmark healthcare reform that his administration got passed in Congress in 2010, saying, “I don’t expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law. But I know that the American people aren’t interested in refighting old battles. So… let’s not have another forty-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans.”
While foreign policy issues did not get the kind of top billing in the address that domestic economic policies did, Mr. Obama’s focus regarding global engagements was on getting the U.S. to “move off a permanent war footing.”
To this end, the President said Western allied forces in Afghanistan would “complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over,” although if Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed the bilateral security agreement “a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces, and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al Qaeda.”
However, Mr. Obama reaffirmed his adherence to the doctrine of covert ops and global surveillance that has been the trademark approach of his tenure, although he reiterated his promise to seek the closure of Guantanamo Bay facility in Cuba, where the U.S. is holding prisoners from the ‘War on Terror.’
He said, “We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us – large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism,” adding that while he had imposed “prudent limits” on drone strikes, he believed that the work of the U.S. intelligence community was “vital” and needed more “public confidence.”
Given the ‘laundry-list’ nature of the State of the Union speech, the President appeared unable to give a few significant issues, including foreign policy, gun control and immigration reform anything more than a passing mention.
While he pleaded with Republican opposition members to bring back the discussion on gun control laws and comprehensive immigration reform back on the table, he did not mention the immigration policy goal of providing a path to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented workers in the country.