WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) – President Barack Obama said the national union is strong in the State of the Union Address Tuesday night, but he still has a raft of sticky-wicket problems to deal with at home and abroad.
As CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported, despite a divided Congress and bipartisan bickering, President Obama has asked lawmakers to do a lot of heavy lifting this year. And it is unclear how successful he will be, but Obama said all his new proposals will be fully paid for.
“Nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime,” Obama said. “It is not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”
But with unemployment persistently high and consumer confidence falling, he pressed a case for a significant government role in reigniting economic growth.
“The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem; they don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue,” he said. “But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party. They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can.”
“It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country — the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love,” Obama said, speaking to a joint session of Congress and a television audience of millions.
Obama said he wants to grow the economy and head off the painful across-the-board spending cuts set to go into effect March 1. He called for a mix of targeted budget cuts and some tax hikes, “by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and the well-connected.”
But even party loyalists such as Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) think Americans – and especially Tri-State Area residents – have had enough with tax hikes.
“If the middle class continues to decline, we will not be the same country we have been for 200 years,” Schumer said. “Here’s the bottom line. The only kind of revenues we should raise are closing loopholes.”
The president was uncompromising in a call for bringing down the deficit through a combination of tax increases and targeted spending cuts, though he has offered few specifics on either. He did reiterate his willingness to tackle entitlement changes, particularly on Medicare, though he has ruled out increasing the eligibility age for the popular benefit program for seniors.
Obama said it is economic growth that serves as his “North Star.” He challenged a Congress often stalled by partisan bickering to focus on three key principles: attracting more jobs to the U.S., equipping Americans with the skills to compete for the positions and making sure hard work leads to a decent living.
“It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth — a rising, thriving middle class,” Obama said.
Seeking to increase wages for 15 million Americans, Obama called for raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 by 2015. The minimum wage has been stagnant since 2007, and administration officials said the increase would strengthen purchasing power.
The president also wants Congress to approve automatic increases in the wage to keep pace with inflation. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney backed a similar proposal during last year’s campaign.
In domestic policy issues, the president called for shrinking the deficit, tackling climate change, overhauling immigration laws, and enacting gun reform.
“Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora (Colo.) deserve a vote,” Obama said.
During the speech, First Lady Michelle Obama sat with the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, a Chicago teenager shot and killed just days after she performed at the president’s inauguration.