WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is pledging an economic revival that will work for everyone and not just the rich, declaring “the defining issue of our time” is the endangered promise of the American dream.
He used his State of the Union address last night to draw a battle line with Republicans over how to avoid a nation of haves and have-nots.
In excerpts of his speech, Obama attacked income inequality and offered an economic agenda built upon boosting manufacturing, energy and education. He called for requiring the rich to pay more in taxes and try to appeal to the independent voters and frustrated masses whose support he needs to keep his job.
Obama made his pitch to a bitterly divided Congress and to a country underwhelmed by his handling of the economy. Targeting anxiety about a slumping middle class, Obama was underlining every proposal with the idea that hard work and responsibility still count.
“We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number 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,” the president said.
He warned Republicans in Congress he will fight them if they try to obstruct him or restore an economy gutted by “outsourcing, bad debt and phony financial profits.”
Republicans weren’t impressed.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, offering the formal GOP response, called Obama’s policies “pro-poverty” and his tactics divisive.
“No feature of the Obama presidency has been sadder than its constant efforts to divide us, to curry favor with some Americans by castigating others,” Daniels said.
Steeped in American tradition, the State of the Union has become a night of political theater watched by tens of millions of Americans. And this year, the one time when Obama is delivering the address while also campaigning for re-election, the speech amounts to his biggest, best case to spell out his vision for another four years.
The economy dominates.
For an incumbent on the attack about income inequality, the timing could not be better.
The economy is improving, but unemployment still stands at the high rate of 8.5 percent. More than 13 million people are out of work. Government debt stands at $15.2 trillion, a record, and up from $10.6 trillion when he took office. Most Americans think the country is on the wrong track.
Obama’s relations with Republicans in Congress are poor, casting huge doubt on any of his major ideas for the rest of this year. Republicans control the House and have the votes to stall matters in the Senate, although Obama has tried to take the offensive since a big jobs speech in September and a slew of executive actions ever since.
Despite the political atmosphere in Washington, the scene is expected to have at least one unifying touch. Outgoing Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt a year ago, is expected to attend with her colleagues. Her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, was attending as a guest of first lady Michelle Obama.