Last night, President Barack Obama addressed Congress and the nation for the first time of his second term in office. After five years of divisive and “rancorous” battle with legislators, Obama declared that he will no longer stand on the side and, in the absence of action from Congress, he will act.
“I’m eager to work with all of you,” President Obama said during his address. “But America does not stand still – and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”
No doubt, the President’s speech was met with the regular amount of ceremony. At the most stirring and emotive point of the evening, Sgt. First Class Cory Remsberg was introduced and acknowledged for the sacrifice he has made for his nation. An Army Ranger, Sgt. Remsburg was injured by a roadside bomb that left him blind in one eye, unable to walk. He rose at the president’s acknowledgment and received the longest ovation of the night.
The president recognized that income inequality is growing despite corporate profits and stock prices having rarely been higher. Responding to the call to protect jobless benefits, the president called on Congress to extend unemployment benefits and raise the minimum wage. Obama proclaimed that $10.10 should be the new federal minimum wage.
“In the coming weeks I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour – because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty.”
On healthcare, the president recognized that the rollout of the Affordable Care Act has been troubled and rife with opposition. However, he cited the many who have been able to obtain coverage under the law who otherwise would not have. Pointing out that Republicans have called 40 votes to repeal the act without putting forward any substantial proposals to address the problems of healthcare availability in the country.
“Now, I don’t expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law. But I know that the American people aren’t interested in refighting old battles. So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, and increase choice – tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up.”
Obama also encouraged those that may have had a lackluster experience with healthcare.gov to return to the site and try again, encourage others to sign up as well.
“That’s why, tonight, I ask every American who knows someone without health insurance to help them get covered by March 31st. Moms, get on your kids to sign up. Kids, call your mom and walk her through the application.”
Hope for immigration reform was expressed. When the president called for Congress to “fix our broken immigration system,” House Speaker John Boehner applauded that call. With legislation passed in the Senate, in remains to be seen that the House will act.
“Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted. I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same.”
Obama received less bipartisan praise when he began discussing foreign policy. When he announced that he had halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program and that, in fact, Iran was rolling back its efforts. He also recognized that he would not hesitate to act in the face of a threat to American safety.
“You see, in a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power – including strong and principled diplomacy.”
The efforts to respond to Syria’s use of chemical weapons and the present efforts to eliminate their chemical weapon stockpiles were cited as evidence of his will to act.
Unfortunately, security & surveillance didn’t receive nearly the attention it deserves. With the past year’s revelations from Edward Snowden, Obama had little more to say than that he would reform our surveillance programs.
So will this year be the “year of action” that Obama is calling for? What do you think? Let us know on Twitter.