State of the Union: 6 highlights from President Obama's address
On Tuesday night, President Obama used his State of the Union address to lay out his agenda for a second term, touching on a range of issues from the budget deficit and immigration to gun control and the minimum wage. While some analysts had predicted Obama would take a more partisan approach — the nuts-and-bolts version of the more liberal vision for the country he outlined in his inaugural speech — the president adopted a centrist stance, captured in the line, "It's not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government." However, the night did conclude with a rousing call for more gun control that is sure to have an impact on the ongoing debate. Here, 6 highlights from his speech:
1. A balanced approach to deficit reduction
Obama started off with the most pressing issue facing Congress: $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts — known as the sequester — that are set to take effect in a matter of weeks. "These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness," Obama said. "They'd devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs." Obama rejected the GOP's demand that the sequester be replaced solely with cuts to entitlement programs and other government spending, saying, "That idea is even worse." Instead, Obama called for a "balanced approach" that included reforming the tax code, closing tax loopholes, and making Medicare reforms.
2. More support for the economic recovery
"Let's be clear," Obama said. "Deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan." Obama called on Congress to pass the remaining portions of his American Jobs Act, which he said would add 1 million jobs to the economy. Obama also laid out modest plans to boost manufacturing in America, and called for greater investments in housing, infrastructure, alternative energy, scientific research, and technology.
3. Comprehensive immigration reform
"Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants," Obama said. "And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform." Obama reiterated his proposals for immigration reform — which include tightening border security and offering undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship — and praised bipartisan groups in both chambers working on the issue. "Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months," he said, "and I will sign it right away."
4. A higher minimum wage
In one of the more unexpected episodes of the night, Obama called on Congress to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour, arguing that it would be one of the most effective ways to reduce the stubborn problem of income inequality. "Tonight, let's declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour," Obama said. "This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead."
5. An end to the Afghan war
"By the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over," Obama said, announcing that 34,000 U.S. troops will draw down from Afghanistan by the end of 2013, leaving roughly an equivalent amount in the country to maintain security and train Afghan army and police forces. Obama also addressed a renewed controversy over his administration's heavy reliance on drones to target suspected terrorists, saying he would "continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remain consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances."
6. A passionate call for gun control
The most dramatic portion of Obama's speech came toward the end, as he called on Congress to pass modest measures to reduce gun violence in America, such as universal background checks. His point was punctuated by the presence of Nate and Cleo Pendleton, whose 15-year-old daughter, Hadiya, was shot dead in Chicago just days after performing at Obama's inauguration. "Hadiya's parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight," Obama said, as members of both parties rose in a standing ovation, "along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote. Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote." Watch: