President Barack Obama delivered a longwinded and leftwing State of the Union in which he advocated in favor of increased taxes, widespread "reforms" to the nation’s gun laws, minimum wage increases, and immigration policy.
"The state of our union is strong," Obama claimed in his more than 6,000 word speech before outlining a series of new policies that he claimed would strengthen it further.
Obama sought to downplay the long-term impact of nearly $500 billion in looming defense cuts that are set to take effect next month, advocating instead in favor of "reforms" aimed at "raising tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans."
"A decade of grinding war" is coming to a close and he said that it was a mistake to only focus on impending defense cuts that military leaders say could decimate the U.S.’s fighting forces.
"Now, some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits," Obama said.
"That idea is even worse" than increasing taxes on America’s wealthiest, according to the president.
Obama also admitted that widespread defense cuts could imperil national security, though he did not propose a plan to avoid these cuts, otherwise known as sequestration.
"These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness," Obama said. "They’d devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs."
The country’s budgetary woes can be resolved by "tax reform" that would increase taxes on some Americans, Obama said.
"We should do what leaders in both parties have already suggested, and save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and well-connected," Obama said.
"After all, why would we choose to make deeper cuts to education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks?" he asked. "How is that fair? How does that promote growth?"
Obama promised to ensure that his "government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few."
Increased restriction on firearms also topped Obama’s agenda, culminating in a refrain that victims of gun violence "deserve a vote" on measures restricting access to guns.
"Overwhelming majorities of Americans—Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment—have come together around commonsense reform—like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun," Obama said.
"Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals," he said, evoking the deadly tragedies in Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado.
Obama asked that Congress raise the federal minimum wage amid the country's ongoing recession.
"Let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour," he said. "This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families."
Obama said that it is unfair for corporate CEOs to benefit at the cost of working Americans.
"Working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher," Obama said.
Obama also touted his signature healthcare plan, advocating in favor of taking even greater steps to reform the country’s healthcare system.
"The biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population," Obama said. "And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms—otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations."
Obama also maintained that America’s rising energy costs are leaving the country less attractive to investors. He proposed a plan to have states compete for federal funds on this front.
"I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years," Obama said. "The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen."
The president also threatened that if Congress fails to act on "climate change," he will direct his admiration to skirt the lawmaking body.
"For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change," he said.
"If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will," Obama threatened. "I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."
American workers should additionally be repairing the nation’s ailing infrastructure, Obama said.
"I propose a ‘Fix-It-First’ program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country," Obama said.
"To make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children," the president claimed.
Immigration reform also appeared on the president’s agenda.
He maintained that "real reform" could be achieved by easing up immigration restrictions.
"Real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy," Obama said. "Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away.
Foreign policy also fit into the president’s agenda. He vowed to end the war in Afghanistan "by the end of next year."
"Already," Obama said, "we have brought home 33,000 of our brave servicemen and women."
"This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead" Obama said. "Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over."
Despite a deadly attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, Obama claimed that the terror group al Qaeda "is a shadow of its former self."
Yet Obama vowed to target terrorists wherever they reside, a declaration that could elicit outcry from liberal observers who opposed attacks by unmanned drones.
"Where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans," Obama said, continuing his policy of killing terrorists on their own soil.
Obama also chastised North Korea, which conducted a nuclear test late Monday.
"The regime in North Korea must know that they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations," Obama said. "Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats."
On the Iranian front, Obama extended an open hand, telling the regime in Tehran that "now is the time for a diplomatic solution."
The president also revealed that he signed Tuesday a new executive order aimed at preventing cyber attacks on the U.S.
"I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy," Obama said. "Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks."
Obama vowed to apply "pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people."
Obama then vowed to "stand steadfast with Israel" during the Jewish state’s sole mention of the evening.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) chastised Obama for intentionally pitting middle class American against the rich in a false dichotomy he claimed only hurts the nation’s economic recovery.
"I don’t oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors," Rubio said in his rebuttal to Obama’s State of the Union address.
Rubio criticized Obama’s attempts to raise taxes on certain Americans in order to pay for massive socials programs that the president claims would reinvigorate the country’s middle class workers.
"Raising taxes won’t create private sector jobs," Rubio said. "And there’s no realistic tax increase that could lower our deficits by almost $4 trillion. That’s why I hope the president will abandon his obsession with raising taxes and instead work with us to achieve real growth in our economy."
The senator maintained that Obama’s desire to increase taxes will setback America’s economic recovery.
Obama believes "the economic downturn happened because our government didn’t tax enough, spend enough and control enough," Rubio said. "And, therefore, as you heard tonight, his solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more."
"The idea that more taxes and more government spending is the best way to help hardworking middle class taxpayers—that’s an old idea that’s failed every time it’s been tried," he said.
"More government isn’t going to help you get ahead. It’s going to hold you back," Rubio maintained. "More government isn’t going to create more opportunities. It’s going to limit them."
Tax increases will not solve the nation’s impending defense crisis, Rubio said.
"We don't have to raise taxes to avoid the President’s devastating cuts to our military," he explained. "Republicans have passed a plan that replaces these cuts with responsible spending reforms."
Rubio also advocated tapping America’s abundant natural resources, which would decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
"God also blessed America with abundant coal, oil, and natural gas," Rubio said.
"Instead of wasting more taxpayer money on so-called ‘clean energy’ companies like [the green energy company] Solyndra, let’s open up more federal lands for safe and responsible exploration," Rubio said. "And let’s reform our energy regulations so that they’re reasonable and based on common sense."
These types of reform would create jobs for many Americans, Rubio said.
"If we can grow our energy industry, it will make us energy independent, it will create middle class jobs and it will help bring manufacturing back from places like China," he said.
Rubio, a Cuban-American, pushed back against the Obama’s proposed immigration reform plans.
"We need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally," Rubio said. "But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws."
Rubio vowed to protect and reform Medicare so that seniors’ health is not put in jeopardy.
"I would never support any changes to Medicare that would hurt seniors like my mother," he said. "But anyone who is in favor of leaving Medicare exactly the way it is right now, is in favor of bankrupting it."
"Instead of playing politics with Medicare, when is the president going to offer his plan to save it?" Rubio asked. "Tonight would have been a good time for him to do it."
The president’s signature healthcare plan, known as "Obamacare," has failed to benefit middle class Americans, Rubio said.
"Obamacare was supposed to help middle class Americans afford health insurance," he asid. "But now, some people are losing the health insurance they were happy with. And because Obamacare created expensive requirements for companies with more than 50 employees, now many of these businesses aren’t hiring. Not only that; they’re being forced to lay people off and switch from full-time employees to part-time workers."
Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) demanded further cuts to America’s defense budget and advocated in favor of cutting off foreign aid to Middle East governments that express anti-America sentiment in the Tea Party response to the State of the Union.
Paul, a libertarian who has positioned himself as an anti-tax crusader, criticized Obama and his fellow Republicans for failing to offer solutions to the country’s budgetary crunch.
Paul invoked the mantra of small government and limited foreign intervention during his rebuttal to Obama’s State of the Union address.
"The president believes we can squeeze more money out of those who are working," Paul said, chastising Congress for failing to realize that it is "endangering" America by not working harder to combat Obama’s agenda.
"Government is the problem," Paul said, channeling President Ronald Reagan. "President Obama believes the government is the solution."
"What America needs is not Robin Hood but Adam Smith," Paul said, referring to the economist who touted the benefits of the marketplace.
"All we are, all we hope to be is threatened" by ballooning deficits and increased spending on national security, said Paul, who like his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R., Texas), has positioned himself as a D.C. outsider. "I thought I knew how bad it was until I got here. It’s worse that I ever imagined."
Paul celebrated nearly $500 billion in looming defense cuts, otherwise known as sequestration, set to take place next month. Obama and the majority of Congress have opposed these cuts.
Paul said that the sequestration does not go far enough.
"Not only should the sequester stand," but lawmakers should slash greater amounts from the defense budget, Paul said
Republicans must "realize military spending is not immune to waste and fraud," he said, proposing that the U.S. eliminate foreign funding "to countries burning our flag."
Paul proposed that Congress should halt a U.S. deal to arm Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
Obama has promised to provide Egypt with numerous U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets and other military equipment despite concerns from lawmakers on Capitol Hill who argue that the arms could be used against Israel.
Out-of-control spending is the countries primary problem, Paul said.
"Big government is not your friend," he said. "The president offers you free stuff but his policies keep you poor."