From lifting the minimum wage to overhauling immigration to closing Guantanamo Bay once and for all, President Barack Obama put forth Tuesday night a sweeping call for a “year of action.”
The president used his State of the Union address to lay out an aggressive vision for 2014, where he urged Congress to focus on “creating new jobs not creating new crises.”
But Obama promised he would meet inaction in Congress by sidestepping members and using his own executive power.
“America does not stand still – and neither will I,” Obama said. “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.”
Republican lawmakers — including U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio — already had heaped criticism on news that the president planned to boost the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour on new contracts for federal employees through executive order. The Republicans blasted it as an abuse of power.
Obama also announced he would direct the U.S. Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings through a program called MyRA.
“It’s a new savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest egg,” Obama said. “MyRA guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in.”
Obama put immigration reform back on the agenda, noting that progress halted in the House after the U.S. Senate last year put together a landmark sweeping overhaul to the immigration system.
“If we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement — and fix our broken immigration system,” he said to a standing ovation. “Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted. I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same.”
The president took on an optimistic tone, opening his address to Americans with anecdotes of a recovering America. Minutes later, however, Obama was urging Congress to reinstate unemployment insurance.
“This Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people,” he told members.
Obama ticked off a list of priorities that have long been part of his agenda, including gun control, bringing troops home from Afghanistan, and imploring that “this needs to be the year” that Guantanamo Bay is closed— a promise he made when he first ran for the presidency in 2008.
Obama delivered a defense of the Affordable Care Act then went on the offense by telling Republicans it was the law and wasn’t going to change.
“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. … But let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans.”
If mending divided government was a theme, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., played into it, announcing on Tuesday that he and his longtime friend from the other side of the aisle — Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., would sit next to one another to symbolically show their commitment to bipartisan work. The two joined the bipartisan “No Labels Problem Solvers Coalition.”
“We remain optimistic about the state of our union, and we look forward to hearing the President’s plan for reducing our nation’s deficit, growing our economy, and ultimately leaving a stronger America to future generations,” they said in a joint statement.
Obama closed with a powerful salute to an Army Ranger – Cory Remsburg — who sat in attendance with his father and first lady Michelle Obama. Remsburg was nearly killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Now blind in one eye, Remsburg is learning to talk again, Obama said, but served as a bright light for Americans.
To that, Remsburg received an extended standing ovation from members of Congress — Republican and Democrat – some who even grew misty eyed as they turned toward the wounded hero.
“My fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. ” Obama said. “If we work together; if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow – I know it’s within our reach.