Last night, the president stood before a joint session of Congress and delivered the first State of the Union address of his second term. The speech came just three weeks and a day after Obama took the oath of office and gave his inaugural address, and many commentators and officials in the administration predicted the speech would serve as a more detailed counterpart to the earlier speech. Obama delivered as expected, giving an hour-long speech that outlined a wide range of goals and proposals for his second-term. He ended with an emotional appeal for Congress to bring his gun-control proposals to a vote — for former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (AZ-D) and the families of victims of gun violence in Newtown, Connecticut, Aurora, Colorado, and elsewhere.
Obama opened with a quote for President John F. Kennedy — and an assurance that “the state of our union is stronger.” He then moved on to outlining the efforts so far to address the budget deficit and the additional work that has to be done to reach his goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction. He warned, however, that the coming mandatory cuts through the “sequester” — a sword of Damocles enacted in the budget agreement of 2011 to force Congress to reach a deal on further budget cuts — would “jeopardize our military readiness,” “devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research,” “slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs.”
Obama identified the “the rising cost of health care for an aging population” as one of the main causes of our long-term debt, and identified “modest reforms” to our social safety net programs — including reducing subsidies to Medicare prescription drug providers, increasing payments from the “wealthiest seniors,” and changing reimbursement policies to emphasize quality of care over specific services provided. He also said the government should undertake tax code reform, to get rid of “tax loopholes and deductions” for the “well-off and well-connected.”
From there, he outlined a number of other economy-related proposals, including increased research and development investment, infrastructure improvement, streamlining home mortgage refinancing, the creation of “manufacturing hubs,” and the support of green-energy technologies to help combat global warming.
On the topic of education, he endorsed increased support for preschool education, better instruction in technology in high schools, and making higher education more affordable through “tax credits, grants, and better loans.”
Obama called for Congress to pass immigration reform that provides a “pathway to earned citizenship,” while securing U.S. borders and providing priority in the Nation’s immigration system to highly skilled workers. He urged passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which addresses the disparity in incomes between men and women, and the Violence Against Women Act, which recently passed the Senate and has yet to be voted on in the House of Representatives. And he called on the minimum wage to be raised to $9.00 an hour.
Pivoting to foreign policy, Obama noted the continued drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and said that next year another 34,000 soldiers will come home and “the war in Afghanistan will be over.” He said Al-Qaeda in 2013 is “a shadow of its former self,” but the threat remains “from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa.” To counter the threats, he said, United States needs help countries provide for their security and not “send tens of thousands of ours sons and daughters abroad or occupy other nations.” He also identified Iran and North Korea as continuing to pose dangers to U.S. interests and said that cyber-attacks can threaten our security and economy.
Obama closed by challenging Congress to take action on his gun control proposals — such as expanded background checks, limits on magazine size, and an assault weapon ban. “Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress,” he said. “If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.”
Finally, Obama ended by appealing to Americans’ common heritage as citizens: “We are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.”