Obama bats for the middle class

January 21, 2015 08:11 am | Updated November 16, 2021 05:20 pm IST - WASHINGTON

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden (left) applauds as Speaker of the House JohnBoehner (right) listens to Barack Obama in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden (left) applauds as Speaker of the House JohnBoehner (right) listens to Barack Obama in Washington, D.C.

“Middle class economics works,” said U.S. President Barack Obama to thunderous applause on Capitol hill during his annual State of the Union (SOTU) address, as he sought to turn the page on the worst economic crisis faced by the country in recent memory and seal his legacy as the leader who made Americans safer and more prosperous than they have been in several decades.

Addressing a packed House of Representatives chamber on Capitol Hill, the President’s core message, that with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq winding down, “The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong,” appeared resonate with Democrats but drew the expected muted response from Republicans in attendance.

“I have no more campaigns to run..I know because I won both of them

An impromptu comedic exchange occurred when those in the Republican aisles applauded in apparent derision at the President’s comment, “I have no more campaigns to run,” and Mr. Obama quipped off-script, “I know because I won both of them.”

Yet his strong show of support for middle class economics, in terms of affordable childcare, college education, health care access, home-buying options, retirement income, was offset by seemingly contradictory messages on the foreign policy front.

In the latter sphere Mr. Obama said, “America leads – not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve,” yet he did not hesitate to call upon Congress to “show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorise the use of force against [Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq].”

Appeals to Congress

Similarly on the economic front while he urged Congress to grant him additional trade promotion authority to ensure international trade deals resulted in a level playing field for American firms and neutralised protectionism, he vowed to bring about tax code reform that would erect barriers against those who would seek to move their money off U.S. shores.

However the Commander-in-Chief appeared to throw his weight behind the advances achieved in negotiations with Iran over containment of its nuclear energy programme, promising to veto any new sanctions bill that Congress sent to his desk, which he suggested could risk sabotaging diplomatic parleys.

On a host of issues relevant to foreign policy, including a promise to “properly constrain” the use of drones, to abide by his promise to proscribe torture, and to develop capabilities to fend off cyber-attacks, his proposals appeared to be belied by recent events, from the force-feeding of inmates in Guantanamo Bay prison, to the use of drone strike abroad and the global mass surveillance conducted by the U.S. National Security Agency.

Yet in terms of domestic policy matters, whether it was on the progress that Washington has seen on clean energy initiatives or the new regulations in place for Wall Street and the landmark healthcare reform law, Mr. Obama indicated that he would not hesitate to use his veto power against any Congressional effort to “turn the clock back.”

Among other specific initiatives announced during the speech the President outlined a plan to increase sick leave for American workers; to reduce community college costs to “zero”; a “Precision Medicine Initiative” that would use the human genome to build better medical treatments, and a bipartisan infrastructure plan that would go beyond the Keystone XL oil pipeline controversy to “create more than thirty times as many jobs per year.”

The Republican response to the SOTU speech was delivered by freshman Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa who entirely sidestepped some key policy issues such as immigration but hoped to work with the President on policies of shared concern such as the tax code.

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