by Daily Sabah with Agencies
Jan 22, 2015 12:00 am
U.S. President Barack Obama urged the nation Tuesday night to "turn the page" on years of economic troubles, terrorism and lengthy wars, arguing that his presidency had ushered in an era of smarter American leadership and a growing U.S. economy.
"It's now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come," Obama said in excerpts released ahead of his State of the Union address.
Obama was speaking to a Congress controlled by Republicans for the first time in his presidency. But the policies he was calling for suggested he had no plans to curtail his own agenda in favor of GOP priorities.
Instead, Obama was proposing higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans with the revenue to be used to pay for middle class tax credits and to make community college free. But key elements of the president's economic proposals appear unlikely to pass Congress, and he appeared to also be focused on setting a tone for the 2016 election and selling the story of an economy now ready to move off austerity footing.
"The verdict is clear," Obama said. "Middle class economics works. Expanding opportunity works. And these policies will continue to work, as long as politics don't get in the way."
New Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, giving the Republican response, called for cooperation, too, saying, "There's a lot we can achieve if we work together." But Ernst, in her prepared remarks, saw a less rosy version of the economy than Obama's, and she took him to task.
"We see our neighbors agonize over stagnant wages and lost jobs. We see the hurt caused by canceled health care plans and higher monthly insurance bills," she said. "But when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare. It's a mindset that gave us political talking points, not serious solutions."
While the economy was expected to dominate the president's address, he was also promoting his recent decision to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and to launch a military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria. In two potential areas of compromise with Republicans, he was to call on Congress to pass cybersecurity legislation and a new authorization for military action in the Middle East. "I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIS," Obama said. The centerpiece of the president's address was to be a bread-and-butter Democratic tax proposal that could increase the capital gains rate on couples making more than $500,000 annually to 28 percent, require estates to pay capital gains taxes on securities at the time they're inherited and slap a fee on the roughly 100 U.S. financial firms with assets of more than $50 billion. Much of the $320 billion in new taxes and fees would be used for measures aimed at helping the middle class, including a $500 tax credit for some families with two spouses working, expansion of the child care tax credit and a $60 billion program to make community college free.
The White House rolled out many of the president's most significant proposals ahead of the speech. And rather than deliver an address littered with policy proposals, administration official said Obama instead planned to talk more about the values that undergird his agenda and promote a story of economic recovery.
On Iran, Obama warned that any move to impose new sanctions could scupper delicate negotiations aimed at reaching a complex nuclear deal. "New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress."
Murat Güzel, Democrat Party delegate and a Turkish businessman, also was present in the Congress as the first Turk in the U.S. history to attend State of the Union speech.