US State Of The Union

2013-02-13 09:16
US President Barack Obama rests his hand next to a copy of his speech as he delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. (Mandel Ngan, AFP)

US President Barack Obama rests his hand next to a copy of his speech as he delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. (Mandel Ngan, AFP)

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State of the Union address

2013-02-13 08:18

Watch US President Obama deliver the 2013 State of the Union address to Congress and America. WATCH

Chicago - Annually, as decreed by the Constitution, the President of the USA submits to Congress the State of the Union, which, in essence, has become a platform for the President to lay out an agenda for the direction in which he (or a future she) wishes to take the country. These speeches can rattle on for quite some time so to make it easier for you, we've let you know who is happy with President Obama's immediate plans for the future, and why.

Labour was undoubtedly the major winner of the night with the most unexpected announcement from the president of a call to raise the national minimum wage to $9 per hour, which is a significant increase from the current $7.25. While this is unlikely to make it through Congress, it was a high-five from the president to one of his most party's most powerful allies: Unions. If that wasn't enough Obama also called for the minimum wage to be tied to the cost of living. The president also announced plans to open manufacturing innovation centres, invest in research and development, upgrade infrastructure (thereby creating more jobs) such as roads and bridges, which he says would thereby attract businesses with facilities such as high-speed rail and fast internet.
Deficit hawks

Those concerned by the USA's mounting debt pile were also given a significant shout-out – somewhat surprisingly from a Democrat president who has run up record deficits (whether you agree with his spending or not, it has been a lot). Obama claimed the rising cost of healthcare was costing the government too much (through its Medicare programme) and claimed Obamacare would help contain costs. Obama also said he agreed with all of the deficit-reducing plans from the Simpson-Bowles commission from a few years ago which everyone said they loved, but refused to vote for when crunch time came. Tax reform is a perennially hot topic in the US and Obama called for an overhaul, which got a standing ovation, but is unlikely to go anywhere if we can go by all the other times for tax reform has been called. The president swore none of his plans would add to the deficit. Also significantly, the president called for Congress to pay the bills it has already authorised spending on. In other words: Raise the debt ceiling!

As is the case in the USA, there was a lot to say about the military. The largest round of applause was saved for the president outlining the drawdowns from the war in Afghanistan. Obama said 38 000 troops would be returning home within the next twelve months, and the rest would be home by the end of 2014, bar those left behind to train Afghan troops and other counter-terrorism measures (interpret that as you like). Obama reiterated the US's stance against nuclear arms in North Korea (which allegedly tested a nuclear warhead on Monday) and the possible acquisition of such weaponry in Iran. He also said the US and Russia would continue to speak to each other about reducing their own nuclear arms. Although there will be reductions in the defence budget, Obama pledged to maintain the US military as the greatest the world has ever known.
On more of a social issues note when it comes to the military, Obama echoed recent military policy to fully allow women into combat missions, and the department’s decision on Monday to extend military family benefits to homosexual families.

One of Obama's core constituencies is women, and he made sure he acknowledged them. As aforementioned, he backed equality within the military, and also called for Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act (which mandates equal pay for women when they do the same work as men). Obama also called for the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to pass the Violence Against Women Act (which helps police domestic violence), which was passed by the Senate earlier on Tuesday.
Young people

Obama sang the praises of his first term when he spoke about how his administration has managed to reduce the cost of student loans by halving the interest rate due on them. Going a step further, he said he aimed to revamp the criteria under which tertiary education facilities get federal money by taking into account how they kept education costs down. For very young people, Obama called for pre-school for all kids from the age of four, which can currently only be obtained privately. He argued that the earlier a child starts to be educated, the better, citing programmes in the southern states of Georgia and Oklahoma.
Mixed bag for the environment

While the president called for action on climate change, and combining increasing green energy projects with job creation proposals, he also said he'd cut red tape for companies to obtain oil and natural gas permits. And don't be fooled: Some of that natural gas is obtained through the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing.

Obama's calls for tax reform, while unlikely, will prick up the ears of businesses and investors, as the president wants to close loopholes. Major business leaders have called for tax and regulatory overhaul but it is unlikely the president will deal with it while he has a full plate of immigration, gun control and job creation to digest. Where Obama likely struck a strong chord was calling for the end of manufactured crises, such as the fiscal cliff, sequester, debt ceiling debate and never-ending budget chaos. Interestingly, he also announced plans for trade agreements with the European Union.

While there was little new on this front, Obama repeated the framework under which he suggests Congress design and pass a pathway to citizenship. This would be contingent on securing the border with Mexico, having illegal immigrants currently in the USA pay back taxes, pay a fine for entering illegally, learn English and metaphorically "go to the back of the line" behind those who have applied for US citizenship legally before applications will be processed.

Gun control advocates

Again, there wasn’t much new here, but Obama extended calls for mandatory background checks on gun buyers, extended penalties for those who buy or sell guns illegally, and a ban on assault weapons. While public anger at the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December still runs high, there is a significant bloc in Congress against real gun control reform. While the president sang off the correct songsheet tonight for gun control advocates, the proof of any success will be in actions.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  us  |  gun control

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