As he fully embarks on his second term, President Barack Obama vows to aggressively promote steps to boost the struggling middle class. In his State of the Union address, the President said it is time to "reignite the true engine of America's economic growth -- a rising, thriving middle class." He argued that the federal government should work on "behalf of the many, not just the few." He called a rising middle class the "North Star" that should guide lawmakers.
The President cited the victims of numerous mass shootings and said they "deserve a vote" on new gun safety measures. Many Democrats arrived in the House chamber wearing green ribbons in honor of the victims of the deadly school shooting spree in Newtown, Connecticut. Several Democrats invited guests whose lives have been impacted by gun violence. Guests included former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who continues to recover from a serious head wound after a deadly mass shooting in Tucson.
Obama called for a renewed spirit of bipartisan cooperation, putting the "nation's interests before party." He urged Democrats and Republicans to work together to avert a so-called sequester of deep, automatic spending cuts. The sequester is set to trigger at month's end. The President touted more than two-point-five trillion dollars in deficit reduction, calling it about halfway toward bipartisan goals. He resisted aggressive new Republican deficit reduction proposals, saying the U.S. can't just cut its way to prosperity.
The President said he is open to entitlement reform but resisted calls to slash Medicare and Social Security. He said the nation "can't ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful." Obama argued that deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan.
On the role of government, Obama said, "It's not bigger government we need but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth." He said it is time to tackle the complex federal tax system with comprehensive, bipartisan reforms. Meantime, he called for more aggressive moves toward clean energy and insisted that the U.S. must do more to combat climate change. Obama threatened to act on climate change through executive actions if Congress does not pass comprehensive legislation.
The President insisted that "now is the time" to pass comprehensive immigration reform. He said the U.S. economy is stronger harnessing the "talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants." Obama stressed that comprehensive reform must include border security and a "responsible pathway to earned citizenship."
Obama announced that another 34-thousand American troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan over the next year. The President said the U.S. objective of "defeating the core of al-Qaeda will be achieved" by the end of next year and the "war in Afghanistan will be over." He said al-Qaeda is a shadow of its former self but warned that al-Qaeda affiliates and other extremist groups are spreading.
The President vowed to do what is necessary to prevent Iran from securing a nuclear weapon. He also repeated warnings to North Korea to end its nuclear pursuits. Obama warned about the growing threat of global cyber attacks and announced he has signed an executive order aimed at strengthening U.S. cyber defenses.