Obama threatens vetoes in State of Union speech
In his sixth State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress and a national television audience, Obama focused much of his early attention on "middle-class economics" but addressed a litany of issues during the 61-minute speech. In response, some conservative lawmakers and other leaders indicated his economic proposals actually will harm families.
For the first time in his now six-year presidency, Obama is faced with a Senate and House of Representatives controlled by Republicans. The GOP gained the majority in the Senate in the November election.
The president told Americans, "We can't put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we've got to fix a broken system. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, I will veto it. It will have earned my veto."
Speaker of the House John Boehner has already said his chamber will vote again this year to repeal the health-care reform law. The House has voted at least a half-dozen times for repeal since it was enacted in 2010.
Among concerns raised by pro-life advocates and other Americans about the health-care law and its regulations are the measure's taxpayer funding of abortion and the abortion/contraception mandate, which requires employers to provide for their workers not only contraceptives but drugs and devices that can potentially cause abortions.
On immigration reform, Obama issued executive orders in November that protect an estimated five million undocumented immigrants from deportation. The president acted after contending for years he did not have the legal authority to make or ignore immigration law. He issued the orders, Obama said, after a comprehensive reform bill approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate in 2013 failed to gain a vote in the Republican-led House.
Even some backers of immigration reform expressed opposition to his actions. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called it an "unwise and counterproductive move." Moore has asked the president more than once not to make immigration reform a "red state/blue state issue."
Americans widely agree their immigration system is badly damaged. The system and its enforcement have resulted in an estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants living illegally in the United States.
In his State of the Union speech, Obama acknowledged "passions still fly on immigration, but surely we can all see something of ourselves in the striving young student and agree that no one benefits when a hard-working mom is snatched from her child, and that it's possible to shape a law that upholds our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants."
"Middle-class economics," the president said, means enabling working families to "feel more secure." Obama promoted affordable childcare and college -- as well as sick leave, equal pay and a higher minimum wage -- as ways to help families. He wants to make two years of community college free throughout the country, the president said.
Some of the president's proposals to accomplish his goals fall short, conservatives said afterward. Those new efforts include a new tax credit program for two-paycheck families and a significant increase to the child care tax credit, according to the Heritage Foundation.
The child care tax credit "discriminates against married-couple families who make a financial sacrifice so that one parent can care for infant and pre-school children in the home," wrote Heritage domestic policy expert Robert Rector and policy analyst Rachel Sheffield after the speech. "Tax policy should not unfairly discriminate between families using daycare and families making a financial sacrifice to provide parental care to their children."
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said of Obama's proposal to increase the child care tax credit, "[W]hy not instead increase the child tax credit and give parents the flexibility to decide what's best for their own family?
"His policies continue to penalize marriage and families, which are vital to economic fairness and success," Perkins said. "It is unfair to penalize marriage in the tax code, and it doesn't make economic sense."
Obama failed to address the greatest economic divider in American society -- the collapse of marriage, said Heritage's Sheffield. Children in single-parent homes are five times as likely to be poor, she said. The president "again neglected to utilize his unique leadership position to call for a restoration of marriage in American communities," she said.
Obama cited same-sex marriage, which he supports, in the address, saying, "I've seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country, a civil right now legal in states that seven in 10 Americans call home."
Same-sex marriage is legal in 36 states, nearly tripling the 13 states where it was legal just 18 months ago. It also is legal in the District of Columbia. Many Christians and other defenders of the biblical, traditional definition of marriage continue to express concerns about the incursions against religious liberty as gay marriage's spread continues.
In a reference to abortion, the president said, "We still may not agree on a woman's right to choose, but surely we can agree it's a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows, and that every woman should have access to the health care that she needs."
Earlier in the day, the White House issued a statement of administration policy on the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act, H.R. 36. Administration officials said they would encourage Obama to veto it if it reaches his desk.
The House, the only chamber to approve the legislation in the last congressional session, is scheduled to vote on it Jan. 22, the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. The bill would prohibit abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization based on scientific evidence that a child in the womb experiences pain by that point in gestation.
"If the president truly believes that declining abortion rates are a good trend, then he should support legislation that would better protect the health of women and lives of unborn children, especially from dangerous and gruesome late-term abortions," said Sarah Torre, a Heritage policy analyst.
The president, however, affirmed human dignity in his speech, saying he wants "future generations to know that we are a people who see our differences as a great gift, that we're a people who value the dignity and worth of every citizen -- man and woman, young and old, black and white, Latino, Asian, immigrant, Native American, gay, straight, Americans with mental illness or physical disability. Everybody matters."
Globally, the United States needs to lead by combining military might with effective diplomacy and "leverage our power with coalition building," Obama said. America is halting the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) by not "getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East" but by "leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group," he said.
The president urged Congress to adopt a resolution authorizing the use of force against ISIS.
Sen. Joni Ernst, the newly elected member from Iowa, gave the nationally televised Republican response, explaining the GOP's priorities as the new majority party in Congress. Ernst is the first female combat veteran elected to the Senate. A member of the Army Reserves, she served as a company commander in Iraq in 2003.