In State of the Union, Obama heralds economic improvements

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 25, 2011. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama delivered the White House’s annual State of the Union address on Tuesday, laying out a series of proposals and goals for the remaining two years of his term.

Speaking to members of both houses of Congress and their guests in the House of Representatives chamber, Obama began his speech by highlighting recent improvements in the economy and the end of the war in Afghanistan.

“The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong,” Obama said.

Saying he wanted to avoid “a checklist of proposals,” Obama then outlined several policy areas and issues he hopes to address this year, often using anecdotes to illustrate how he hopes ordinary Americans will benefit from his policies.

Obama used the first section of his speech to explain his three-part plan to improve “middle-class economics,” beginning with a call for more affordable and accessible childcare and a request for Congress to pass an equal pay law.

He also restated his intention to introduce a bill to Congress that would offer two years of free community college to students.

“I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today,” he said, adding that he also wants Congress to provide more support for Americans paying off student loans.

Obama then asked Congress to provide better aid to veterans and to continue to encourage a competitive economy that would bring high-wage jobs to the United States.

“The third part of middle-class economics is about building the most competitive economy anywhere, the place where businesses want to locate and hire,” he said.

Criticizing lobbyists for supporting loopholes that “let some corporations pay nothing while others pay full freight,” Obama called for a simpler tax code with fewer loopholes, which he said would help working Americans “get a leg up in the new economy.”

Obama also outlined several foreign policy objectives, such as continuing to pursue actions against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), ending the embargo against Cuba and strengthening international systems of defense against pandemics like the Ebola virus.

Obama then asked Congress to improve American cybersecurity and to support action against climate change, highlighting an agreement the White House reached with China to cut carbon emissions.

Briefly addressing the events in Ferguson and New York City and marking the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, Obama said he hoped Congress could come together to support voting rights and criminal justice system reform.

Finally, Obama asked members of Congress to work together and reach across the aisle, even if they do not agree with all of his proposals.

“I want our actions to tell every child, in every neighborhood: Your life matters, and we are as committed to improving your life chances as we are for our own kids,” he said.

For the first time this year, the White House released the full text of Obama’s speech online before the address began. The text was posted on the website, Medium, and contained infographics of key statistics alongside the text of the speech.

On campus, Tufts Democrats hosted a State of the Union viewing party for students to watch the address together. Tufts Democrats Communications Director Ben Kaplan said he was thrilled to see Obama address so many issues that many Democrats believe are relevant today.

“The biggest issue facing our nation is income inequality … and many of the issues President Obama highlighted are dedicated towards solving these pressing issues,” Kaplan said. “His focus was truly progressive, and that was what truly impressed us here.”

Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) delivered this year’s Republican rebuttal, explaining that the Republican-led Congress would aim to combat terrorism, reduce trade barriers and support job growth. She also criticized the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Obama’s pledge to veto the Keystone XL Pipeline bill, and added that Congress would continue to pursue ways to repeal the ACA.