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Obama Outlines Vision, Declaring ‘America Is Back’

Above: President Obama, flanked by Vice President Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner, delivers his State of the Union speech Tuesday in Washington.

President Obama has been talking in recent weeks about the need to bolster the middle class. With his third State of the Union address Tuesday, he began outlining the policies he believes are necessary to make "an economy that's built to last."

In his address to Congress and the nation, Obama outlined several systemic changes to the economy and the tax code. He intends to tax the top earners more heavily, offer tax breaks to businesses that create jobs within the U.S. and improve training and education for American workers.

"We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by," he said, "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."

Obama opened his address with a reference to his welcoming home some of the last U.S. troops from Iraq. He also mentioned his administration's success in hunting down Osama bin Laden and other members of the terrorist group al-Qaida.

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a ...
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Above: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill January 24, 2012 in Washington, DC.

But the president devoted the bulk of his address to economic matters.

Promoting Manufacturing

Obama, who said that the state of the union is "getting stronger," pointed out that job creation is now approaching pre-recession levels, with 3 million jobs created over the past 22 months.

He noted the success enjoyed by American carmakers General Motors and Chrysler since they were bailed out and restructured by the federal government.

Obama pledged to encourage U.S. manufacturing through changes to the tax code. He proposed blocking tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas, while calling for all multinational companies to pay "a basic minimum tax."

"No, we will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt and phony financial profits," Obama said.

Streamlining Training

Obama put an emphasis on steamlining worker training programs and said that higher education had to be made more affordable, calling it "an economic imperative."

Obama singled out as an example Jackie Bray, a North Carolina woman who sat during the speech to the immediate right of first lady Michelle Obama. After having been laid off as a mechanic, Bray was trained to work at a gas turbine factory thanks to a partnership between its operator and a local community college.

Obama called on Congress to block interest rates on student loans from doubling this summer and wants to create economic penalties for colleges and universities that allow tuition increases to get out of hand.

"You see, an economy built to last is one where we encourage the talent and ingenuity of every person in this country," he said.

The president touted his record on fossil-fuel production, seeking to stave off criticism from his decision last week to block a permit for an oil pipeline from Canada. Obama has already noted in campaign advertising that America now relies on foreign sources for just under 50 percent of its energy needs for the first time in 13 years.

He noted the country's spike in natural gas production. But some Republicans and energy industry officials say that Obama is taking credit for successes that were not of his own making, since his administration has been comparatively stingy about allowing new permits for drilling on public lands and offshore.

Obama called for further development of natural gas, but also renewed his call for investments in clean energy sources.

A Face For The Buffett Rule

On a day when much of the news was dominated by the release of personal income tax returns by Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination, Obama called again on rich Americans to pay a greater share of taxes.

Among the guests in the first lady's box was Debbie Bosanek, the secretary of billionaire investor Warren Buffett. Buffett has often said it's unfair that he pays a lower effective tax rate on his investments than his secretary, who earns far less in wages.

For the first time, Obama offered a specific number regarding the imposition of a "Buffett rule," calling for wealthy Americans to pay a minimum income tax rate.

Those making more than $1 million a year should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes, Obama said. But he pledged to keep tax rates constant for American households earning less than $250,000 annually.

Bosanek nodded as the president said, "Asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes — most Americans would call that common sense."

The president also called for tighter regulations of financial institutions, saying he would direct Attorney General Eric Holder to work with his state-level counterparts to create a special unit of prosecutors to look into abusive lending practices.

A Nod Abroad

Obama devoted the bulk of his remarks to energy and the economy, but he did address major changes seen around the globe this past year.

He described the "wave of change" across the Arab world, noting in particular the ouster and death of longtime Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. He expressed his belief that Syrian President Bashar Assad will also soon be driven from power, but offered no specifics about what the U.S. might do to achieve such an outcome.

Obama also reiterated his determination to keep Iran from building nuclear weapons. Despite recent saber-rattling between the countries, Obama said that a "peaceful resolution" is still possible.

In addition to offering what he framed as positive remarks about Iraq and al-Qaida, the president said, "We've begun to wind down the war in Afghanistan."

The Republican Response

In the official GOP response, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said that while Obama was not responsible for the recession, he has failed to make the economy better.

"He cannot claim that the last three years have made things anything but worse: the percentage of Americans with a job is at the lowest in decades," Daniels said.

Echoing complaints raised by other Republicans throughout the day, Daniels said that Obama's agenda relies on excessive government spending. Daniels said the federal debt has to be curbed, in part by reining in entitlements.

Raising tax rates on the wealthy, he said, would choke off growth.

"It's not fair and it's not true for the president to attack Republicans in Congress as obstacles on these questions," Daniels said. "They and they alone have passed bills to reduce borrowing, reform entitlements, and encourage new job creation, only to be shot down time and time again by the president and his Democratic Senate allies."

Obama: Not Backing Down

Still, Obama signaled that he would not back down from further fights with Republicans in Congress. Over the next three days, he will be repeating his economic themes on a tour of several states — Iowa, Arizona and Nevada — that are likely to be battlegrounds this fall.

"I intend to fight obstruction with action," he said, "and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place."

The mere fact that Republicans are responding to Obama's ideas, however, showcases the importance of the State of the Union in helping Obama shape the political agenda. Thus far this year, more attention has been devoted to the GOP primary process.

"This gives him the public forum, the attention that has been so focused on the Republicans vying for the nomination this year," says presidential historian Robert Dallek. "This gives Obama the chance to come back onto center stage."

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 24, 2012 at 10:31 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

I thought it was a strong speech. Obama, while I don't agree with everything he's done (or NOT done, like closing Gitmo as promised) has been a decent President.

His visIon for the country is far better than the plutocracy being proposed by the Republican challengers.

Don't feel too sorry for Mitt or Gingrich when they lose, though. Gingrich has his mistress cum trophy wife with her half a mil in Tiffany's diamonds and Mitt can settle in to the ten million dollar La Jolla mansion he is remodeling.

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Avatar for user 'Satariel'

Satariel | January 25, 2012 at 9:32 a.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Obama is pathetic. I do not feel that I should be forced to support people who are too lazy to support themselves or take care of their health.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 25, 2012 at 10:25 a.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Satariel, do you prefer the Republican model where the middle class dwindles as a small group of wealthy individuals who constitute less than 1% of the population continue to hoard the nation's power and wealth?

And you talk as if welfare programs don't exist under Republican presidents. Welfare GREW under GW Bush, even during the 6 years conservatives controlled Congress and the Executive.

You can whine about "welfare" all you want, but it will exist regardless of who is elected, just as it does in every industrialized country on earth.

If you are really concerned about your tax money being flushed down the toilet, then be wary of both Republicans likely to face of against Obama.

Both of these Republicans have made it quite clear they WILL go to war with Iran.

Another war in the middle east/west Asia region.

I would much rather see my tax dollars helping fellow Americans than going to yet another nation-building fiasco in West Asia.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 25, 2012 at 10:37 a.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

And satariel, re: healthcare.

It was President Reagan who signed legislation mandating nobody will be refused medical care at hospital based on ability to pay.

Do you favor repealing this?

And if so, what do we do with poor sick people? Let them die? Then will tax payers have to pay for the government to go into the houses or apartments of seniors who get no healthcare and no social security and die and the neighbors call e police when they smell the stench of death?

And what about the working poor. People who work in lower paying mostly physically laborious jobs. should we not supplement their healthcare, wait for them to get ill, and then see our country's population of physical labor become inefficient and impaired due to poor health conditions? Do you realize how that would hinder our economy as a whole, especially considering our global competitors do provide health care to all?

Republicans may believe in "trickle down" economic, but I believe in "trickle up".

If you have tens of millions of working poor who don't have decent access to health care, it harms our economy as whole, even the rich people who rely on this labor.

It makes far more sense to keep people healthy by providing those who can't afford it healthcare. Other 1st world nations see this as a basic function of the government, and we should as well.

As it is, we pay more than double per capita on healthcare than any other country on earth, and yet we still have tens of millions without access. The costs are so high because people without insurance let treatable conditions go until they become medi al emergencies, they then go to hospital where they can't pay. Not only do tax payers flip the bill for this the people themselves then have to go into bankruptcy, thus hindering our economy on two fronts.

We live in a society, and sometimes it makes sense to help those without means not just because it's morally the right thing to do, but also because it actually makes our society as a whole stronger and more competitive globally.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | January 25, 2012 at 12:09 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

There should be no free lunch. Donating health care to those who do not provide enough value to offset their consumption is a losing proposition. Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of giving away other people’s money.
It makes even MORE sense to have people keep themselves as healthy as possible by adjusting their risky behaviors, and the best way to do that is to not subsidize their mistakes. Mistakes should be painful, otherwise the important lessons that they should impart are lost.
We live in a society and it sometimes makes sense to help others who can then be held accountable for the loan they have received. The others are not worth the investment. The key motivator here is to always be worth investing in. Study well, work hard, cultivate good relationships, live frugally, don’t take unnecessary risks, plan for the future. If you can do that somebody will be looking to hire you and none of this welfare expense will be necessary. If you can’t, someone who can will out-compete you and leave you in the dust.
These are the behaviors that make our society stronger and more competitive globally. Everybody needs to pull their weight.

As for the speech... Meh... lots of hype, no solid plans. Let's see what actual laws and EOs this generates.

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Avatar for user 'Satariel'

Satariel | January 25, 2012 at 1:13 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Benz, you have more finesse than me, I agree with you completely. Mistakes in today's society are no longer punished. Yet more, they are rewarded. Lose your job? Here is some free money. Have kids you can't afford? Here is more money. Get an adjustable rate mortgage thinking the value of your house will never go down? Here, have a free write-down on your principal.

And then people like me, who has been gainfully employed, did not have children I could not afford to support, nor did I buy a house, we don't get any benefit besides the satisfaction of knowing we aren't losers.

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | January 25, 2012 at 1:33 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

The debate about healthcare in prior posts doesn't provide for congenital defects afflicting newborns born to a low-income parent(s). They're not guilty of anything. Once you start with that, where is the line drawn?

I didn't know we were no longer striving to be a peaceful and benevolent society. Why don't we just go back to Calvinistic predestination where winners and losers are sorted-out at birth.

P.S.: There are still doctors, nurses and technicians who don't care about a patient's ability to pay when providing treatment.

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Avatar for user 'Satariel'

Satariel | January 25, 2012 at 2:38 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

DeLaRick Ron Paul was one such doctor during the years he practiced.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 25, 2012 at 3:31 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

First off, you evaded several points I made that I'd like you to answer, as it's always difficult getting a direct response from conservatives on this issue:

do you want to repeal the Reagan-era law that requires hospitals to treat anyone who comes in, regardless of their ability to pay? Or should the "tough consequences" that you claim makes our society "stronger" include a non-insured diabetic having to choose between sawing off their own foot or dying in the street?

The reason this question is important is because as long as people without means can bet treated in the hospital, we WILL be spending billions on healthcare.

People without access to care will eventually get sick and need serious medical treatment.

As I mentioned previously, our nation spends MORE per capita than countries that actually give free healthcare to all their citizens.

And you also seem to ignore the point I made that **everyone** suffers when we have tens of millions of people without access to healthcare.

Other industrialized nations provide healthcare for all their citizens.

We have 40 million people without health insurance.

You thigh at makes us a stronger nation? To the contrary, it makes us much weaker.

And I'm glad you brought up keeping people healthy.

You think THAT'S free?

Public health agencies are also government funded, and have been responsible for saving our nation billions - just look at the issue of smoking alone.

You conservatives complain about government agencies like the EPA that work to designate carcinogens and ensure sure our air, soil, and water are safe are wastes of money. You discourage spending on public health agencies that promote healthy lifestyles, and then you have the nerve to suggest the key to our healthcare system is people living more healthy?

I would love to see more spending on public health and prevention, it would save money in the long run, but changing societal habits are not done by simply having Ron Paul waving his finger in your face and saying, "better not do that!" - it takes society and it takes money.

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Avatar for user 'Satariel'

Satariel | January 25, 2012 at 3:45 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

The negative side to increased public health: A large and growing population of retired people. We just can't win, can we?

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 25, 2012 at 11:31 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Satariel, you will be one of those elderly people one day. And while you may think you are invincible now, life can be unpredictable.

You could have an accident tomorrow making you unable to work and needing government assistance.

I hope you never do, but you seem to have this opinion that everyone who needs help is some kind of freeloader or dredge on society. There are a lot of people who do contribute to society and then find themselves needing assistance at some points in their live.

I don't mind my tax dollars helping these people because I realize someone I care about or even myself could be in the same boat at any time

I believe in capitalism, but capitalism with safety nets. No one system is perfect, this includes capitalism, and I believe most Americans value our society's safety nets.

You and others seem to feel our country is becoming socialist, but thesis completely contrary to the facts.

In the united states, wealth continues to concentrate in the hands of the rich, while the poor and middle class are losing wealth. Anyone who thinks this is socialism does not know the meaning of the socialism.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | January 26, 2012 at 7:30 a.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

The only direct question I see in your post is “do you want to repeal the Reagan-era law that requires hospitals to treat anyone who comes in, regardless of their ability to pay?”
My answer is, Absolutely!
Everything of value has to be paid for. Forcing people to give it away for free is damaging to those who attempt to make a living by providing a valuable service.
If a doctor wished to treat a patient pro bono, I have absolutely no objection. It’s his time, his equipment, his license… he can do as he pleases with them. What is grossly unjust is requiring said doctor to provide service and then either not compensating him or forcing someone else to do so.
I do not even remotely believe that keeping people healthy is free. I believe it is an individual responsibility. It is your choice to smoke, or not. It is your choice to moderate your diet, or not. It is your choice to exercise, or not. Those are the largest contributors to health and your choices are your responsibility. No one else should have to pay for them.
Do I think abiding by a good health regimen makes us a more capable workforce and stronger nation? Yes, don’t you?
“You discourage spending on public health agencies that promote healthy lifestyles, and then you have the nerve to suggest the key to our healthcare system is people living more healthy?” I’m not sure which post of mine you interpret as a complaint about the EPA or as promoting unhealthy lifestyles. Please cite. I discourage spending on INDIVIDUAL health by the public. Mass vaccination, education, epidemic control and research are very appropriate uses of government funds. Giving an 80 year old 350 pound smoker a second heart operation is not. Fertility treatment is not. Gender modification is not. Plastic surgery is not.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 26, 2012 at 7:41 a.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

SATYRIEL, you do make ONE valid point--people who don't take care of themselves and the financial burden this causes on the health system: people with drinking problems, heavy smokers, overweight people, sedentary peole with poor eating habits, etc.

How do YOU propose to tackle this?

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Avatar for user 'Satariel'

Satariel | January 26, 2012 at 9:22 a.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

MIssionaccomplished, I propose we spend a lot more money on public education in these areas, as well as with drug use. Where could we get the money? How about legalizing and taxing drugs. All the money we use in our war on drugs can instead be used for public education.

Oh but then the flow of seized money at the borders would stop. I guess that is why this will never happen.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 26, 2012 at 9:45 a.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Ok, two points I agree with:

satariel, I agree the war on drugs is a waste of money and that money could be used in a better way

Benz, I agree with your statement on education and research, I think if our government invested more in that then the costs of spending on clinical care would go down.

The point I was trying to make that seems lost is that helping individuals does not always benefit just the individuals receiving the aid, but society as a whole.

I think we all benefit from having a healthy, productive nation, but the cost of decent healthcare is out of reach for many. I work in the private sector and make decent money, but if I did not receive medical insurance through my employer, there is no way I could pay for it outright.

There are many people (not lazy freeloaders) who work but they are not able to purchase healthcare for them and their families through their employer. I don't think investing in the health of these people is a bad thing, I think it makes our workforce stronger and more robust.

There as been a lot of focus on preventable diseases in these discussions, but not all people who become I'll do so due to lifestyle choices.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | January 26, 2012 at 12:24 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Can you please cite the benefit to me as a taxpayer that I may expect for subsidizing the health care of a Florida retiree? I would like to be able to place a value on the benefit you claim I am getting so I can evaluate whether or not it was a good investment.
We all do benefit from having a healthy productive nation, but the ones who benefit the most are those who are healthy. The ones who bear the cost of providing that benefit are those who are productive. If those are the same person, then great, someone is getting what they pay for. If not, someone is leeching off of someone else and that is unjust.
You are correct that not all illnesses are the result of lifestyle choices, but I don't think that fact is a particularly strong argument for providing care. It IS a strong argument for funding research though.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 26, 2012 at 6:53 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Benz, it's about a safety net. You pay into it and the benefit is that you and someone you care bout will have the same benefit. That's hw entitlements work.

Can you explain how my tax dollars going to an unnecessary Iraq war that I was against from the begining benefits me?

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | January 27, 2012 at 7:45 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

1) A safety net cannot be a place to stay, but rather an extremely temporary stop to avoid imminent peril.
2) A safety net only needs to 'catch' those who will recover and be productive again. Others will not be able to justify the investment.
3) A safety net needs to keep those it protects alive, not comfortable. The minimum needs for human survival are far surpassed by our current system.

Our current system is not acting like a safety net is acting more like a hammock, and that isn't helpful.
As to the war, no I cannot prove to you how you benefit from the Iraq war. Iraq has problems that need to be solved by Iraqis. If there had been a WMD threat, then I can see a reason to keep them from being able to use them, but as it turns out we never found any. Sounds like a bad investment. I’m glad we’re not investing in it any more. Let's not continue making another one with your dysfunctional safety net.

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | January 28, 2012 at 2:33 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

You all sound like Mitt and Newt going at it! Keep it up, it's amusing when I have nothing better to do than check for online comments.

Oops! Scratch that. I actually love the news and joining in the fun.

Lots of good points here. One fact I think you all missed: no one in our government knows how to turn this economy around. It's based solely on people spending and spending. We don't create like we used to in America because it costs to much to run a business (hence the outsourcing).

Jobs don't pay what they used to, so people don't have money to spend. This has finally caught up with us. I know people with MBA's and doctorates looking for jobs that pay $15 an hour because there's no work in their field, and the ones available don't pay like they used to.

Everything our government does is about spending. They haven't curtailed anything and don't plan to. Guess what? The rubberband hasn't even broken yet. Only when that happens and all of us are left standing to ask why will the change we need come to pass.

1) Government needs to stop spending blithely.
2) Government Pensions have got to go.
3) Business Taxes need to be lowered.
4) Worker's Comp needs to be revamped (that alone can kill a business)
5) Living Wages versus Minimum Wages need to be enforced.
6) Incentives for businesses offering Living Wages for the bulk of their employees needs to be created.
7) We have to give companies a reason to stop outsourcing.

These are only a few. We just have to wait and see how long before these everyday issues that effect us come to the attention of our government.

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