WASHINGTON (CBS DC) – President Barack Obama stated he wants to “make this a year of action” when he spoke about a number of proposals in which he hopes will help to push the country forward during his fifth State of the Union address.
“In the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together,” Obama said. “Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want – for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations. And what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all – the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead.”
In his address to Congress, Obama began his speech by highlighting different examples of working-class Americans. The president shared that the unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in five years, the housing market is rebounding and that for the first time in 20 years America is producing more oil in the U.S. than buying it from outside of the country.
“Our deficits – cut by more than half. And for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is,” Obama added.
Obama said that he thinks this can be a “breakthrough year” for America and that the U.S. is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth.
With an approval rating of 43 percent, Obama proclaimed that he is still committed to Washington and trying to make it work better citing the fight over the budget.
“Nobody got everything they wanted, and we can still do more to invest in this country’s future while bringing down our deficit in a balanced way,” Obama shared. “But the budget compromise should leave us freer to focus on creating new jobs, not creating new crises.”
He admitted that middle-class jobs declined over the years due to a number of factors.
“Let’s face it: that belief has suffered some serious blows,” he said. “Over more than three decades, even before the Great Recession hit, massive shifts in technology and global competition had eliminated a lot of good, middle-class jobs, and weakened the economic foundations that families depend on.”
The president highlighted income inequality during his address, acknowledging the economic growth the country has seen, but at the same time he noted that wages for employees have not increased causing the income gap to grow even more.
“Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by – let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.”
In an attempt to help solve the growing problem, Obama presented proposals that would help grow the middle class and the economy.
“What I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class,” Obama explained. “Some require Congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still – and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”
In trying to improve the economy, the president said that the immigration system in America needs to be fixed.
“Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades,” Obama told Congress. “And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone. So let’s get immigration reform done this year.”
He also admitted that it is wrong and an “embarrassment” that women are not getting paid an equal rate as men for the same work.
“It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode,” Obama said. “This year, let’s all come together – Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street – to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds.”
The federal minimum wage has also been a hot topic in recent weeks and the president spoke about the need for it to be raised, asking Congress “to get on board.”
“Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about twenty percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here,” Obama said. “Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10. This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend. It doesn’t involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise.”
During his address, Obama spoke about America’s chance to beat other countries to the next wave of high-tech manufacturing jobs and how his administration has created two hubs in Raleigh, N.C., and Youngtsown, Ohio. He announced that six more hubs will be created this year.
The president noted that small business owners and entrepreneurs need more help and that they create the most new jobs in the country.
“Over the past five years, my administration has made more loans to small business owners than any other,” Obama said. “And when 98 percent of our exporters are small businesses, new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help them create more jobs. We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped ‘Made in the USA.’ China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines. Neither should we.”
Addressing the issue of climate change, Obama said that tough choices need to be made.
“The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way,” Obama explained. “But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”
In an effort to pitch Obamacare, the president begged every American who isn’t covered to get covered under the new insurance.
“That’s why, tonight, I ask every American who knows someone without health insurance to help them get covered by March 31st,” Obama stated. “Moms, get on your kids to sign up. Kids, call your mom and walk her through the application. It will give her some peace of mind – plus, she’ll appreciate hearing from you.”
Obama said that all of the American troops are out of Iraq and that more than 60,000 have come back to America from Afghanistan. However, the terror threat still remains.
“While we have put al Qaeda’s core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved, as al Qaeda affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world,” Obama explained. “In Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable these networks. In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks.”
He said that the U.S. will keep “strengthening our defenses, and combat new threats like cyberattacks.” He explained that “as we reform our defense budget, we have to keep faith with our men and women in uniform, and invest in the capabilities they need to succeed in future missions.”
Obama shared that the country is “aggressively pursing terrorist networks,” but that America “must move off a permanent war footing.”
“That’s why I’ve imposed prudent limits on the use of drones – for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence,” Obama said. “That’s why, working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs – because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated. And with the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay – because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world.”
Also another hot topic, Obama spoke about the sanctions that were recently put in place for Iran. He told Congress that Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of uranium, but also warned the group of lawmakers.
“But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it,” Obama firmly stated. “For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed. If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon. But if Iran’s leaders do seize the chance, then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war.”
The nation’s leader also spoke about First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move Campaign” and the success she has had in trying to reduce childhood obesity across the country.
“Michelle’s Let’s Move partnership with schools, businesses, and local leaders has helped bring down childhood obesity rates for the first time in thirty years – an achievement that will improve lives and reduce health care costs for decades to come,” Obama shared.
Speaking to the nation, he acknowledged that America is still in recovery mode and that it is still a tough time for the country. Obama wants Congress to come together and work for all of the American people.
CBS News’ Bob Schieffer said that Obama can’t solely rely on executive actions, that he needs Congress, too .
“The fact is, he can’t do many great things,” Schieffer said. “You can by executive orders do some things … but he needs this Congress and they need him. And they have still got to find a way to work together if they’re going to solve the real problems that are facing this country.”