Last night President Obama spoke to a joint-session of Congress and the American people in his fourth State of the Union Address. State of the Union addresses are a Constitutionally-mandated opportunity for presidents to lay out their administration’s priorities for the upcoming year.
President Obama began his address by announcing that the state of the union is stronger and noted accomplishments, including the continued recovery of the housing market and stronger consumer protections. 34,000 troops will return home from Afghanistan in one year and the war in Afghanistan will be over by the end of next year.
The president expressed his disapproval of the across-the-board budget cuts, scheduled to take place March 1, unless Congress acts and noted that modest reforms need to take place to deal with the increasing cost of healthcare for an aging population, the biggest cause of the nation’s long-term debt. At the same time, the president reinforced that promises, such as Medicare benefits already made must be honored.
Similar to other presidents, the president supported the need for tax reforms to benefit small businesses, hold those who find tax loopholes accountable, and offer lower tax rates for employers and manufacturers creating jobs.
President Obama announced a reinvestment in manufacturing through a Fix-It-First program that will employ Americans in updating and repairing the nation’s aging infrastructure. Additionally, the administration will partner with businesses to invest in updates to ports and pipelines through A Partnership to Rebuild America. The president pledged his administration’s support to research and development in science and innovation.
The Obama administration will support clean energy to combat climate change, vowing to cut red tape and speed up oil and gas permits. An Energy Security Trust was announced to support research and technology that relieves the country of its reliance on oil. President Obama encouraged Americans to take action by cutting in half the waste in homes and businesses over the next twenty years.
Unsurprisingly, the economy was one of the chief components of the State of the Union address. One of the major messages of the president’s address was a commitment to rebuild the middle class. The president promised to create middle class jobs without adding to the deficit and voiced support for a bill currently in Congress, that if passed, would allow families with good credit the chance to save up to $3,000 annually by refinancing mortgages at today’s rates. The president urged passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would ensure that women make the same amount of money as men for the same jobs, and encouraged raising the minimum wage to $9.00/hour and tying the minimum wage to the cost of living. The Obama administration will work with twenty of the worst-off cities in the country to rebuild communities through public safety, education, affordable housing, encouraging fatherhood, and removing the financial obstacles low-income couples face this year. Discussions of a Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union will take place to support free and fair trade.
President Obama will work with states to create access to high-quality preschool for all children, noting the importance of early childhood education later in life. He appealed to high schools to educate students with skills to succeed in a high-tech economy. The president called on Congress to amend the Higher Education Act to determine the financial aid schools receive be based upon the value and affordability colleges offer students. Finally, a College Scorecard (available today) was announced; parents and students can use the scorecard to determine which colleges are the best values.
The president also urged the passage of comprehensive immigration reform, promised transparency in targeting, detaining, and prosecuting terrorists, and reinforced America’s strong support of Israel. President Obama emphasized equality for gay members of the military, as well as women in combat, and also re-stated his administration’s support of veterans.
The president noted that a stronger, not bigger government is necessary. A non-partisan commission to improve the voting process around the country will commence. The president also publicized the signing of an executive order that strengthens the country’s defense from cyber attacks, and called on Congress to do more.
Finally, the president passionately urged votes on gun control, noting the tragedies of Newtown, Gabrielle Giffords, Hadiya Pendleton, Aurora, Oak Creek, Tucson and Blacksburg.
Things you may not know about the State of the Union address:
- Technically, presidents are invited to address Congress. The Speaker of the House sends a written invitation to the President to address a joint session of Congress.
- Some presidents (including Thomas Jefferson) have given their state of the union addresses via letters sent to Congress, rather than a verbal address.
- Typically there is significant applause throughout the address in support of the President, and occasionally standing ovations. The people you will rarely see applauding? Supreme Court Justices. Due to the independent nature of the Supreme Court, justices usually don’t show support for policies.
- Many members of Congress either send aides or arrive at the House of Representatives very early in the day in order to get a great seat to watch the address.
- At least 1 member of the President’s cabinet does not attend the State of the Union. This is for succession purposes, in the event that there is a national disaster during the address. For this reason, Energy Secretary Steven Chu was absent from last night’s address.
- Generally, following the State of the Union address, a member of the opposing party delivers a response. Last night, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) delivered the response for the GOP. Rep. Rand Paul (R-KY) delivered the Tea Party’s response.
– Contributing Political Editor, Carrie Pastor