In a presentation that was equal parts State of the Union and stump speech, President Barack Obama addressed the nation Tuesday night, bookending points about the economy, energy, and tax reform with reminders that Osama bin Laden was eliminated on his watch.
"For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq," he said early on in his speech. "For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country."
The President focused on the economy, job creation, energy, tax reform, education, immigration reform, and bipartisanship in his "Blueprint for an America Built to Last." He repeatedly urged Congress to send him bills to address these issues, adding that he would "sign them right away."
"Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that do the same," the President said. "It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom. No bailouts, no handouts, and no cop-outs. An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody."
The President also offered a handful of proposals, from a Veterans Job Corps to encourage communities to hire veterans as police and firefighters, to a request to "consolidate the federal bureaucracy" in order to make the government "leaner, quicker, and more responsive" and an executive order to "clear away the red tape" around domestic construction projects.
"But you need to fund these projects," he told policymakers. "Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home."
Here are some of the highlights. (You can watch the hour-long speech here):
"In the six months before I took office, we lost nearly four million jobs. And we lost another four million before our policies were in full effect. Those are the facts. But so are these. In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than three million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005. American manufacturers are hiring again, creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s. As long as I’m President, I will work with anyone in this chamber to build on this momentum. But I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place."
On taxes:"Right now, companies get tax breaks for moving jobs and profits overseas. Meanwhile, companies that choose to stay in America get hit with one of the highest tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and everyone knows it. So let’s change it."
"Right now, because of loopholes and shelters in the tax code, a quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households. Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. … Tax reform should follow the Buffett Rule. If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes. …Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense."
On unfair trading practices:"Tonight, I’m announcing the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trading practices in countries like China. There will be more inspections to prevent counterfeit or unsafe goods from crossing our borders. And this Congress should make sure that no foreign company has an advantage over American manufacturing when it comes to accessing financing or new markets like Russia. Our workers are the most productive on Earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you -– America will always win."
On political partisanship:
"Now, I recognize that people watching tonight have differing views about taxes and debt, energy and health care. But no matter what party they belong to, I bet most Americans are thinking the same thing right about now: Nothing will get done in Washington this year, or next year, or maybe even the year after that, because Washington is broken. Can you blame them for feeling a little cynical?"
"I’m a Democrat. But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more. That’s why my education reform offers more competition, and more control for schools and states. That’s why we’re getting rid of regulations that don’t work. That’s why our health care law relies on a reformed private market, not a government program."
On America's reputation:
"The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe. Our oldest alliances in Europe and Asia are stronger than ever. Our ties to the Americas are deeper. Our iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history. We’ve made it clear that America is a Pacific power, and a new beginning in Burma has lit a new hope. From the coalitions we’ve built to secure nuclear materials, to the missions we’ve led against hunger and disease; from the blows we’ve dealt to our enemies; to the enduring power of our moral example, America is back. Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about."
Microphones picked up the chatter as Obama entered the room, greeting people who lined the aisles. At one point, he congratulated U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, saying "Leon. Good job tonight," as he passed by. According to a Reuters report, a secret mission was underway in Somalia at that moment: U.S. Special Forces were rescuing two aid workers, American Jessica Buchanan and Dane Poul Hagen Thisted, who had been kidnapped by Somali pirates in October. All nine captors were killed, Panetta later confirmed. No American soldiers were killed.
The emotional high point of the night happened before the President's speech even started. Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords entered the room to sustained applause from both parties, and the President stopped to greet her with a long hug. Dressed in bright red, she also brought a bipartisan focus to the evening: Every time she wanted to stand with her fellow Democrats, her Republican colleague, Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake, helped her to her feet and stood with her. "I support my colleague and friend," he told CNN's Dana Bash after the speech.
The Republican Response:
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels gave the Republican response to the State of the Union speech Tuesday night. After praising the president for "his aggressive pursuit of the murders of 9/11" and for "the strong family commitment that he and the first lady have displayed," he went on to accuse President Obama of experimenting in "trickle-down government" and "an unprecedented explosion of spending." (You can watch the entire speech here).
"As Republicans, our first concern is for those waiting tonight to begin or resume the climb up life's ladder," he said. "We do not accept that ours will ever be a nation of haves and have-nots. We must always be a nation of haves and soon-to-haves."
"The president did not cause the economic and fiscal crises that continue in America tonight, but he was elected on a promise to fix them, and he cannot claim that the last three years have made things anything but worse," Daniels said. "In three short years, an unprecedented explosion of spending, with borrowed money, has added trillions to an already unaffordable national debt. And yet the president has put us on a course to make it radically worse in the years ahead."
"The late Steve Jobs -- what a fitting name he had -- created more of them than all those stimulus dollars the president borrowed and blew," he continued. (A New York Times story last weekend pointed out that a third of the jobs created by Apple are located overseas.)
"2012 must be the year we prove the doubters wrong. The year we strike out boldly not merely to avert national bankruptcy, but to say to a new generation that America is still the world's premier land of opportunity," Daniels concluded. "Republicans will speak for those who believe in the dignity and capacity of the individual citizen; who believe that government is meant to serve the people rather than supervise them; who trust Americans enough to tell them the plain truth about the fix we are in, and to lay before them a specific, credible program of change big enough to meet the emergency we are facing."
The Tea Party weighs in:
For the second time, The Tea Party offered a rebuttal to the President's State of the Union address; this year, former GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain delivered their response. He called Obama's speech "well-scripted rhetoric," called for "common sense solutions," and accused the President of waging "class warfare," making "racial innuendos," and manipulating the tax code to "pick winners and losers, reward some and open up new loopholes for others."
"We heard more excuses and blame," Cain said. "I heard the speech and it came across as a hodgepodge of little ideas. No big ideas that would fundamentally change how things work in Washington."
"And so I say in response, on behalf of the Tea Party and citizen people across this country, with all due respect, Mr. President, some of us are not stupid," he said. "The state of the Union is not good."
Cain blasted the President for their health care initiative, "out-of-control debt" and unemployment, but took a moment to invoke images of Christians battling lions and David slaying Goliath before ending by urging people to join the Tea Party movement.
Did you watch the State of the Union address and the Republican and Tea Party responses? What did you think?
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