Obama focuses on economy in key speech

2012-01-25 06:57

Washington - US President Barack Obama on Tuesday used his annual State of the Union policy address to denounce America's economic inequality, drawing a battle line with Republicans ahead of what is expected to be a tough fight for re-election.

The nationally televised speech before a joint session of Congress, one of America's grandest political events, put Obama back in the spotlight after months of being overshadowed by the fierce race among Republicans vying to be his opponent in the November election.

At the core of Obama's address was the improving but deeply wounded economy - the matter driving Americans' anxiety and the one likely to determine the next president.

With little hope of getting a divided Congress to approve much of his legislative agenda, Obama spoke with voters in mind.

Economic fairness

He outlined a vastly different vision for fixing the country than the one pressed by the Republicans. He pleaded for an active government that ensures economic fairness for everyone, as his opponents demand that the government back off and let the free market rule.

He called for higher taxes on millionaires and a flurry of aid for the middle class. Restoring a fair shot for all is "the defining issue of our time", he said.

"We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules," he said.

Republicans applauded infrequently. In the party's formal response, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels denounced the speech as "pro-poverty" and Obama's tactics as divisive.

"No feature of the Obama presidency has been sadder than its constant efforts to divide us, to curry favour with some Americans by castigating others," Daniels said.

Even before Obama spoke, the two top contenders for the Republican presidential nomination offered criticism. Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, questioned whether Obama would "show a willingness to put aside the extreme ideology of the far left". Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said Obama was proposing "more taxes, more spending, and more regulation".

Tax rate for millionaires
But Obama's timing could not have been better for a message about income inequality. Earlier on Tuesday, Romney released his federal tax returns under political pressure, revealing that he earned nearly $22m in 2010 and paid an effective tax rate of about 14%. That is a lower rate than many Americans pay because of how investment income is taxed in the United States.

In his speech, Obama proposed a minimum tax rate of at least 30% for those earning $1m or more a year.

"Now you can call this class warfare all you want," Obama said, responding to a frequent criticism from Republicans. "But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense."

Obama calls this the "Buffett rule," named for billionaire Warren Buffett, who has said it's unfair that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does.

Emphasising the point, Buffett's secretary, Debbie Bosanek, attended the address in first lady Michelle Obama's box.

Obama also proposed more help for college students, relief for homeowners and eliminating tax incentives that make it more attractive for companies to ship jobs overseas.

Foreign policy

Though domestic issues dominated his speech, Obama talked about extending new ties and influence toward Asia, while claiming that old alliances in Europe and elsewhere are stronger than ever.

He said that while all options are on the table to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon - an implied threat to use military force if necessary - "a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible".

Regarding Syria, where more than 5 000 people have been killed in a crackdown on protesters, he said the government of President Bashar Assad "will soon discover that the forces of change can't be reversed, and that human dignity can't be denied".

Obama also called for the creation of a new trade enforcement unit that would go after unfair trade practices around the world. Obama said the US would provide financing to put its companies on even footing when the Chinese or other competitors use unfair export financing to help their businesses.


Obama faces considerable challenges three years into his term. Polling shows Americans are divided about the president's overall job performance but unsatisfied with his handling of the economy.

The economy is improving, but unemployment still stands at the high rate of 8.5%. Government debt stands at a record $15.2 trillion.

Partisanship has become so intense in Washington that last year the government neared both a shutdown and, even worse, a first-ever default on its obligations.

A rare wave of unity splashed over the House chamber at the start. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, survivor of an assassination attempt one year ago, received sustained applause from her peers and cheers of "Gabby, Gabby, Gabby". She blew a kiss to the podium. Obama warmly embraced her.

Lawmakers also leapt to their feet when Obama said near the start of his speech that terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, killed by a raid in Pakistan authorised by the president, will no longer threaten America.

  • Bennie - 2012-01-25 07:39

    Americas going down! This guy cannot rule a houseplant to grow!!! Or wait, Oprah likes him, therefore he must be good..... bwhhhahahahaha. Funny how colour still plays a major role in a "free" country!

      Hloni Mashigo - 2012-01-25 08:01

      What on earth are you going on about, this article has got nothing to do with race sir. I just don't get people like you, how is it that you see race in every situation ? Yes, obama's black, and no he didnt cause america's problems, they all started in 1912 when the federal reserve act was passed, there is nothing he cn do about that. And dnt talk about oprah like that dont you know she gives people things for free rotflol.

      DuToitCoetzee - 2012-01-25 08:24

      Ag no man Bennie. To early to play with crayons. If you cant see they have big problems, but colour is not the issue, you should rather not comment.

      Mthuthuzeli - 2012-01-25 08:25

      Secrets from Jekly island!

      Dmitri - 2012-01-25 08:50

      @Hloni - The fed was in 1913. The death of America has been comming for many years now. No matter who the president is, they are still a puppet to congress (believe it or not).

      Mthuthuzeli - 2012-01-25 09:17

      It is the Corporatocracy and AIPAC that call the shots in US politics. Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." Benito Mussolini

      Mthuthuzeli - 2012-01-25 09:51

      Translation, if any was needed: in the near future, with the Europeans out of the mix, virtually none of Iran’s oil will be traded in dollars. Real assets vs. Paper assets!

      Chris - 2012-01-25 10:22

      Bennie, you are a biggoted ignoramus

      Mthuthuzeli - 2012-01-25 14:42

      Dollars printed out of thin air and not backed by anything. An America can print a worthless piece of paper and exchange it for your property that you worked so hard for. Here is the problem. With "honest money" you cannot wage wars, you cannot sack foreign countries and steal their resources, you cannot rob the savers in your own country with inflation, you cannot bribe the electorate, you cannot enslave the population with debt, you cannot gather more interest than you have reserves, you cannot rig the business cycle, you cannot enforce a direct income tax and pay it to a non-accountable central bank.

  • hc12345 - 2012-01-25 08:11

    He had 4 years to do all this...blah blah blah

      Mthuthuzeli - 2012-01-25 08:31

      Don't blame obama for being a politician, that's what he is. The structure of the usa government is hopelessly obsolete, it was meant to be ineffectual from day 1, so that it would not, and could not, interfere with the 'pursuit of pleasure' in the men of property' class.

      Willie - 2012-01-25 15:04

      Unless if you nasty how can you fix the economy of USA in 4 years.G.Bush stuffed the economy for 8 years. Use your brains not your head

  • Martin - 2012-01-25 08:17

    If Ron Paul doesn't win, the west is pretty screwed.

      Martin - 2012-01-25 08:42

      He wants to stop fighting all of the stupid wars that only benefit America's corporations. He wants to promote trade and friendship with all countries on an equal footing and not as an overlord. Basically he wants USA to sort itself out instead of trying rule the world. All the other candidates are all pretty much the same. Democrats and republicans. Think about it, what has really changed between Bush and Obama? Halliburton is still making billions as are the rest of the corporations that own these candidates.

      Mthuthuzeli - 2012-01-25 09:08

      You are spot on Martin, but unlike Germany and other developed countries (Scandinavia, Netherlands, Switzerland) that have maintained the brain input into manufacturing and design , the US has lost many of its brightest individuals to the financial services sector, pursuing quick bucks ponzi wealth schemes. The war industry is the only industry that hasn't been farmed out and with new weapons you need new places to explode them, hence the perpetual warmongering that Ron Paul is against.

      Willie - 2012-01-25 15:07

      You cannot compare Bush and Obama. Bush didn't care about the economy of USA.Instead he went to Iraq we still waiting for WMD

  • Piet - 2012-01-25 08:19

    To the American people.. He is doing to the USA the same as SHOWAHEAD is doing to the RSA....

      Willie - 2012-01-25 15:08

      Ignorant americans who believe in politics(skiet and donner) of Bush

  • Jaba - 2012-01-25 08:28

    Great speech! Watched all two hours of it at 4 this morning. Obama can speak – I will give him that much! But action speaks louder than words; and as such I think his chances for re-election come November are unfortunately slim. And to the others here… America is going nowhere… they are still in control – china is just making the products for them.

      amanda.victor2 - 2012-01-25 08:50

      Great speech? All he did was attack rich people to pay even more taxes for him to waste even more money! Just how much taxes are enough for this clown? If only he could come up with a policy that actually does something! Last year his speech was all about building fast-rail trains. What happened to that dream? Sounds just like the useless ANC.

      modo - 2012-01-25 09:58

      Even more taxes?? What are you talking about? Obama extended Bush's ridiculous tax cuts on the rich and hasn't raised taxes at all, he has actually CUT them. We are talking about greedy multi-millionaires that are getting tax breaks on their second and third private jets. Are people that averse to spending a bit of money to increase the quality of life for millions of poor Americans that need it way more than they do. It is such a joke, how can people call themselves Christians when they feel that affording a third holiday home is more important in the grand scheme of things than affording other human beings basic human rights such as healthcare and education? It sickens me.

      Mthuthuzeli - 2012-01-25 10:15

      @Jaba China is getting rid of its dollar reserve and converting them into tangible assets like factories etc, (most of the prime real estate in the UK). Imagine the real world — mostly the global South — doing the necessary maths and, little by little, beginning to do business in their own currencies and investing ever less of any surplus in U.S. Treasury bonds. The US made its own bed by trying to force its mandates on the world even as it sinks into the morass under its own wars' indebtness and should be allowed to sleep in it along.

  • pekpsbotha - 2012-01-25 08:32

    Yea you're right Hloni, agree with you 101%!!! Bennie please get your facts right before you comment!! God Bless America!!!:)

  • Mthuthuzeli - 2012-01-25 08:36

    Obama should start learning to play the fiddle immediately so he can go down in history alongside Nero as Washington burns. Somewhere else on the news India won't be using the $ to pay for Iranian oil but gold or a basket of other currencies and China might be doing the same. The consequences of this are unimaginable for a country that has been living on fiat money.

  • allcoveredinNinjas - 2012-01-25 10:42

    Wow , America is so far from the'End' its a joke. If you removed a third of their economy they'll still be twice the size of any other. If you do not know how or why a federal reserve or central banking system works then it doesn't mean its out to get you. If you think the US with the checks and balances of a democratic system is going to burn because of its sins then I truly worry about a vast majority of the rest of the world who have no such institutions and you'll just never hear about it (Go do a investigation of Human rights abuses in Tibet). Lets not even go into the wars , Iraq from 1979-2003 was no peaceful ,at one with the earth regime handing out flowers and kisses , they invaded two countries with longest standing war in the modern era as well as used Chemical weapons on its own populace. There's critisim and then there is conspiracy , somehow the American Government is out to get you .... personally.

      Mthuthuzeli - 2012-01-25 10:55

      The US has lost its way. It needs to stop, regroup, and retrace its steps. From now on, bombing countries and plundering their resources is no longer going to save the US. These wars and bombings are the acts of a desperate and dying madman. The death twitches are self-evident. For all the pious bloviating and self-righteous posturing of Obama, Clinton and their handlers, that country is sinking deeper and deeper into ints self-imposed oblivion. Ignoring this sad fact, and calling those who smell the stink of America's multitude of failures as terrorists, liberals, America-haters and evil is not going to stop or slow that country's demise.

      modo - 2012-01-25 12:22

      @Mthuthuzeli - You go on about the wars and bombings, but then mention the last two left-wing presidents who, for the most part, and far more anti-war than the Conservatives. If you followed facts you would know that Obama has withdrawn every single troop out of Iraq. Doesn't sound like a desperate madman to me.

      Mthuthuzeli - 2012-01-25 12:38

      You seem to be under the illussion that the US fights these wars to win them, NO. These wars are fouhgt to satisfy the the appetite of the MIC (Military Industrial Complex),i.e, transferring billions of US tax payer dollars to defence contractors who fund the US political campaigns. The oil contracts have been secured in Iraq and Libya with Iran on the wings. It's all about trade when it comes down to it and ensuring rules are in place so that resources and markets can be accessed under the most favourable terms possible for US corporations. Just like your local gangsters and protection rackets but in the big leagues.

      modo - 2012-01-25 12:46

      Did I say anything about why these wars are fought?? What are you talking about? I am wholeheartedly against these wars which is why I would hate to see another conservative take office. Again, if these are your grievances, don't misdirect your anger towards the left-wing liberals. It's the Republicans who are in it to serve the best interests of the corporations.

      Mthuthuzeli - 2012-01-25 13:12

      US electoral outcomes are determined by powerful monied interests that finance the political campaigns and the bills Congress passes and the President signs are written by these interest groups to serve their narrow interests. But to believe that the Democrats believe anything fundamentally different, is to indulge in delusions. The chronic problem with the US is how it's politics are funded. If you get the lobbying money out of the system, and you reform campaign finance, and you'll getter a better quality of politician. The Democrats and their liberal apologists offer minor palliatives and a feel-your-pain language to mask the cruelty and goals of the corporate state. There is no party that is an anti-war party for example. The Democrats are deceivers. The Republicans are liars.

  • pages:
  • 1