It was an undeniably Obama-esque speech, full of pathos that was sure to win over millions of supportive viewers but few political opponents. Despite the Democratic party’s abysmal loss in November, polls show President Obama’s approval rating hovering above fifty percent. In comparison, President George W. Bush’s approval rating was thirty seven percent at this point in his presidency.
In his first State of the Union to a Republican-led Congress, President Obama not only laid out his plans for the last two years of his presidency, but also effectively set the stage for the 2016 presidential election.
In previous State of the Union addresses, the President has for years indicated that the state of the union was improving. For example, in 2012 he said that “The state of our Union is stronger.”
Then, in 2013, he came just shy of declaring that the state of the union was strong, instead saying “It is you, our citizens, who make the state of our union strong.” Finally, in his sixth year in office, the President declared that “The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.”
Obama’s journey from “stronger” to “strong” is more than rhetoric. It’s a testament to what has been accomplished in only six years, with four of them under a Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
In his speech, the President reminisced on how far America has come since the dawn of the century, which was marred by the attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror.
Before addressing his goals for the final quarter of his presidency, Obama emphasized the progress that has been made in his time in office. He delighted in the fact that “our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999” and that “our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis.”
Obama seemed eager to move forward in implementing his agenda, with or without the cooperation of Congress. Ironically, after saying “I want to focus less on a checklist of proposals, and focus more on the values at stake in the choices before us,” Obama proceeded to present Congress with a lengthy list of goals.
Few of his proposals actually stand a chance of being approved by the Republican-led House and Senate, which will likely leave Obama to act on his own when possible.
Some of Obama’s most notable proposals include a plan for free community college, increased taxes on the wealthiest Americans, improvements to cybersecurity, an increase in paid leave benefits for workers, and new regulations on natural gas to combat climate change.
Obama’s community college proposal, called America’s College Promise, would make two years of community college free for any American given that they attend school at least half-time and maintain a GPA of 2.5.
The free community college proposal has the federal government footing 75% of the cost, with participating states covering the remaining 25%. The plan is expected to cost $60 billion dollars over ten years.
Obama next proposed changes to federal tax policy, which he said would raise rates on the wealthiest while lowering rates for the middle class.
The first part of the plan would raise taxes on capital gains, inherited wealth, and on large financial institutions. The second part of the plan would give middle class families a $3,000 child care tax credit and a $500 tax credit for families in which both parents work.
From breaches at Target and The Home Depot to the scare of Heartbleed and hack of Sony, 2014 was a year that saw one cybersecurity attack after another.
Obama made sure to address the crisis, saying “No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids.”
Obama proposed several reforms to prevent these attacks. One component would require companies to notify both their customers and the Federal Government in the event of a breach. Another part of his proposal would give private companies liability protection if they shared data about cyber attacks with the government.
Obama called on members of Congress to adhere to a “better politics,” explaining that “a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine. A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears.”
In another great irony, Obama followed his lecture on “better politics” with a slew of veto threats aimed at the Republican majority. Obama promised to veto any bill that would dismantle any component of the Affordable Care Act, roll back any regulations on Wall Street, block his immigration action, or impose any additional sanctions on Iran.
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