Obama backs litany of initiatives for progress
WASHINGTON (BP) -- The United States has made "much progress" because of the "grit and determination" of its citizens, President Obama said Tuesday (Feb. 12) in a State of the Union speech in which he promoted a litany of initiatives at the start of his second term.
In his fifth State of the Union address, Obama quickly addressed the economy in a 61-minute speech filled with proposals for government programs. He steered clear, however, of such moral and religious liberty issues as his administration's abortion/contraception mandate that was implemented following passage of the health care law. He delivered only a nod to same-sex marriage, which he supports.
Pro-family and Republican leaders criticized the president's recommendations for what they described as his over-reliance on government instead of the American people and the family.
Speaking before a joint session of Congress and a national television audience, Obama said it is this generation's "unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country -- the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like, or who you love."
He called for compromise between the parties, saying, "The American people don't expect government to solve every problem. They don't expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation's interests before party."
During his speech, Obama:
-- Called for votes in Congress on tougher background checks for purchasing guns and restrictions on assault weapons and large ammunition magazines -- in what was likely the emotional high point of the address.
-- Urged an increase in the minimum wage to $9 from $7.25, with a tie to the cost of living afterward.
-- Announced 34,000 troops would return home from Afghanistan this year.
-- Promised executive action to combat climate change if Congress does not pass cap-and-trade legislation, even though the issue has lost much of its credibility and momentum in recent years.
-- Pushed for adoption of comprehensive immigration reform, including border security and a path to citizenship that requires "passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally."
-- Promoted a solution to sequestration, which involves sizable, automatic cuts to defense and non-defense spending, without adopting proposals to reduce only domestic expenditures.
He also reiterated his administration's controversial changes to the military that permitted inclusion of open homosexuals and expanded roles for women in combat.
"We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families -- gay and straight," Obama said. "We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters and moms, because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat."
In addition, he called for dropping "financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples" and doing more "to encourage fatherhood."
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida delivered the Republican response, saying the president's government-heavy solutions would not solve America's problems.
"[T]he truth is every problem can't be solved by the government," said Rubio, who also pre-recorded his reply in Spanish. "Many are caused by the moral breakdown in our society. And the answer[s] to those challenges lie primarily in our families and our faiths, not our politicians."
Rubio said Obama's proposed tax increases and deficit spending would damage the middle class and seniors. "I don't oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich," he said in a reply to the president. "I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors."
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said his organization's research shows "an intact married family who worships regularly is the antidote for almost every social ill addressed in this speech. Those growing up in an intact married family have greater educational attainment, are less likely to be involved in crime, and less likely to be poor."
"The President's speech included a call for 'stronger families' and 'removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples,'" Perkins said in a written statement, "yet his own policies undermine family formation."
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).