U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol February 12, 2013 in Washington, DC.
(USA TODAY) -- President Obama outlined plans Tuesday to revive American prosperity
by rebuilding "a thriving middle class," calling it the "true engine of
America's economic growth" during his annual State of the Union Address.
the economy and creating good middle-class jobs "must be the North Star
that guides our efforts," Obama told a joint session of Congress and a
national television audience.
RELATED: Full text of the State of the Union address
While devoting most of his speech to
jobs and the economy, Obama also announced plans to pull 34,000 U.S.
troops from Afghanistan over the next year, reducing the American
presence by about half as part of a planned overall withdrawal. "By the
end of next year," Obama said, "our war in Afghanistan will be over."
president also condemned the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran,
and pledged to work with Russia to continue reducing American and
Russian nuclear stockpiles.
In perhaps the most dramatic moment of
the hour-long speech, Obama called on Congress to vote on gun-control
proposals in order to honor "Americans whose lives have been torn apart"
by mass violence. "They deserve a vote," Obama said.
In a litany
of economic proposals, Obama called for an increase in the minimum wage -
from $7.25 to $9 per hour - as well as new plans to speed up
infrastructure projects, promote manufacturing, improve science and math
education and develop alternative sources of energy.
RELATED: Full text of Sen. Marco Rubio's response to the State of the Union address
his speech, Obama tied the economy to other aspects of his legislative
agenda, including proposals for a major overhaul of the immigration
system, legislation to combat gun violence, and programs to address
Obama urged members of Congress - especially
Republicans - to avoid the "sequester," $85 billion in automatic
spending cuts set to take effect March 1. The president said these
"sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts" would jeopardize military readiness and
"devastate priorities" like education, energy, and medical research.
he urged a "balanced" plan to reduce the nation's $16-trillion-plus
debt with both spending cuts and new tax revenues derived from closing
loopholes and ending certain deductions.
The State of the Union
also featured a new plan to protect the nation's infrastructure from
cyberattacks and the creation of an election reform commission to deal
with challenges such as long lines at polling places and voter
Congressional Republicans said Obama's
plans rely too much on government and not enough on the market to
rebuild the middle class. In the formal Republican response to the State
of the Union, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. - a potential Republican
presidential candidate in 2016 - said that past presidents from both
parties "have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of
our middle class prosperity."
"But President Obama?" Rubio said. "He believes it's the cause of our problems."
also said that Obama's call for new tax revenues amounts to a tax hike
that will further slow the economy, and that the debt should be reduced
by spending cuts alone. They said Obama got a tax increase - in the form
of higher income tax rates - as part of the "fiscal cliff" deal reached
"So we're done with the tax part of the equation," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. before Obama's speech.
the address, Obama said that Social Security and Medicare recipients
should bear the brunt of debt reduction, and that "the wealthiest and
most powerful" should contribute as well. He also pledged to work with
Republicans to make "modest" changes to entitlement programs and to
simplify the tax system.
Obama said that while Americans don't
expect government to solve all the nation's problems, they do expect the
parties to work together. Seeking to pressure Republicans, he urged
Congress to avoid past disputes over the fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling,
and the budget that damaged the nation's credit rating and threatened
to shut down the government.
"The greatest nation on Earth cannot
keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to
another," Obama said.
The president spoke amid reports that the
unemployment rate ticked up to 7.9% in January, and that the overall
economy contracted in the last quarter of 2012.
plans for the middle class, Obama said lawmakers should ask themselves
three questions: "How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we
equip our people with the skills they need to get those jobs? And how
do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?"
Obama also said his proposed new programs are paid for, and will not increase budget deficits by "one dime."
his proposals: A "fix-it first" program to speed up certain
infrastructure projects, and more pre-school for children from low- and
The president also called for three new
"Manufacturing Innovation Institutes," government-business partnerships
seeking to develop new technologies; a "Master Teacher Corps" to improve
math and science education, and an "Energy Security Trust" with the
goal of moving cars and trucks off oil.
He renewed previous calls
for major legislation, including his immigration overhaul plan that
includes a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million illegal
immigrants, an item some Republicans have criticized as amnesty for
The president also said Congress needs to confront
climate change, "for the sake of our children and our future." One
solution, he said, is developing "clean energy" legislation.
Obama called on congressional votes on proposals for "universal
background checks," a renewal of the assault weapons ban and
restrictions on the sizes of ammunition magazines.
Guns were a
primary issue for many in the audience in the U.S House chamber. Both
the White House and members of Congress invited families and friends who
have endured the trauma of shootings.
The guest list for first
lady Michelle Obama included the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, a
15-year-old from Chicago who was shot in the back and killed last month
in an apparent act of gang violence just a mile away from the Obamas'
The first lady also welcomed a teacher from the elementary
school in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults died in a
Dec. 14 shooting. Members of Congress wore green ribbons in honor of the
"The families of Newtown deserve a vote" on gun
legislation. Obama said, a mantra he echoed for other communities
"ripped open by gun violence."
Other White House guests - invited
to personalize various aspects of the president's agenda - included a
police officer wounded in a mass shooting at a Sikh temple near
Milwaukee; members of the military; and business, education and health
Some congressional Republicans also brought
guests. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, invited former rock-and-roller Ted
Nugent, an outspoken critic of gun control who said last year he would
wind up "dead or in jail" if Obama won re-election.
discussion of foreign affairs on foreign affairs, Obama made an apparent
reference to his drone program in pledging to work with Congress to
insure that "our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists
remains consistent with our laws and our systems of checks and
And he again pledged to prevent Iran from obtaining the means to make a nuclear weapon.
announcing his visit to the Middle East next month, Obama pledged to
help with Egypt's painful transition to democracy, and to pressure the
regime of Syrian leader Bashar Assad.
The millions of television
viewers included members of Organizing for America, the political action
group formed by Obama 2012 campaign officials. OFA sponsored about
1,200 State of the Union "watch parties" across the country.
made a conference call to these gatherings immediately after the
speech, urging them to lobby Congress on behalf of his agenda. "Figure
out how you guys are going to stay organized," the president said.
David Jackson, USA TODAY