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Obama: 'Our Destiny Remains Our Choice'

U.S. President Barack Obama (C), flanked by Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill January 25, 2011 in Washington, DC.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais-Poolg
U.S. President Barack Obama (C), flanked by Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill January 25, 2011 in Washington, DC.

President Obama, in his second State of the Union address — his first before a divided Congress — characterized the nation's challenges as between the United States and the rest of the world, and not Democrats and Republicans.

"Governing," he said, "will now be a shared responsibility between parties."

But "winning the future," he said, is the ultimate goal and will require America to once again reinvent itself to remain competitive globally. He called for new government investments in education, renewable energy and infrastructure — setting up a possible battle with Republicans who have vowed to slash federal spending.


"This is our generation's Sputnik moment," Obama said of the challenges facing the nation today.

In a speech largely devoted to tough proposals to bolster the nation's struggling economy and rein in its exploding debt and deficit, Obama also invoked the recent massacre in Tucson, which left six dead and Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded.

"What comes of this moment is up to us," he said, noting that the tragedy prompted a national reflection on the tone of political discourse and a symbolic move by some Congress members to sit with those of the opposite party during the speech.

"What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight," Obama says, "but whether we can work together tomorrow."

Though the president says that the nation is "poised for progress," he outlined what he warned would be "painful cuts" in coming years to control spending and deficits.


And he acknowledged that for many Americans, once able to live comfortably with a factory job and no college degree, the "rules have changed."

Corralling The Debt

Obama called for a $78 billion cut in defense spending and a five-year freeze on certain domestic programs. He threatened to veto any bill containing earmarks — making common cause with Republicans. He proposed eliminating "billions" in taxpayer subsidies to oil companies and said that there should be no permanent tax cuts for wealthy Americans.

And he said that the decision makers need to take a tough look at cutting the costs of expensive entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid and finding a "bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations."

Obama also called for rewriting the loophole-laden tax code, which he said was rigged by lobbyists, and pushed for a fresh look at recommendations made late last year by his bipartisan Fiscal Commission.

"Over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries," he said. "But all the rest of us are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. It makes no sense and it has to change."

But in a shot at conservative congressional Republicans who have been calling for far more, deeper cuts, the president warned that the budget ax needs to be wielded carefully — and not on the backs of the most vulnerable.

"Let's make sure what we're cutting is really excess weight," he said. "Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. "It may feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you'll feel the impact."

The president hit themes he's been trying out in recent weeks, characterizing his plan forward as one that stresses innovation, responsibility, education, rebuilding and reform. He called for an increase in investment in research and development, and a commitment to doubling exports by 2014.

Obama used the Bush-era tax cut extension deal that the two parties struck during December's lame duck session to segue into his "vision for the economic" future. The president has said before that U.S. corporations have been sitting on a lot of cash, and, his advisers said earlier Tuesday, the president "wants to get all that cash off the sidelines and into the economy."

In the official Republican response to the president's speech, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee faulted the previous Democratic-controlled Congress for failing to "pass or even propose a budget" last year.

"We owe you a better choice and a different vision," he said, pledging that the new GOP House majority would ensure that the "spending spree" is over. He pledged to draft a budget that will ease Americans' "justified" skepticism in both political parties.

"Our nation is approaching a tipping point," said Ryan, who had some GOP post-speech competition from fellow Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, chair of the House Tea Party caucus.

Health Care: 'Let's Fix What Needs Fixing And Move Forward'

Obama glossed over what has dominated the most rancorous political discourse on Capitol Hill since his 2008 inauguration: health care legislation.

He signaled an openness to some revisions of the law, saying he is the first to say that "anything can be improved," but warned against "re-fighting the battles of the last two years."

"Let's fix what needs fixing and move forward," Obama said.

Democrats have claimed that support for repeal of the 2010 health care legislations has been consistently overstated by Republicans. And though the bill remains unpopular, they may be correct.

A new Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health survey released Tuesday found that 28 percent of those questioned actually want the 2010 law expanded, compared with 20 percent who want it repealed and replaced with nothing.

Additionally, 19 percent said to leave the legislation alone, and 23 percent told surveyors that they would like the bill repealed, but replaced with a Republican plan.

'Bigger Than Party, And Bigger Than Politics'

The president made brief mention of the progress in withdrawing troops from Iraq, and taking the fight to the Taliban in Afghanistan. He reiterated his plan to begin bringing troops home from Afghanistan this summer, without specifying how many.

He lauded congressional approval in December of the nuclear weapons reduction treaty, and said the administration is "shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity."

Immigration reform was also given a brief mention by the president when he spoke of his education initiatives.

His focus remained on jobs, progress made in the past year, and on a call for cooperation.

"At stake right now is not who wins the next election – after all, we just had an election," Obama said. "At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else."

"It's whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded. It's whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but a light to the world," Obama is expected to say

And with a special nod to new House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, the president said that the American dream is why "I can stand here before you tonight."

"That dream is why someone who began by sweeping the floors of this father's Cincinnati bar can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth."

"We will move forward together, or not at all – for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics."

"Our destiny," Obama said, "remains our choice."