I won't stand still, Obama warns Congress
Washington, January 29, 2014
President Barack Obama has vowed to bypass a divided Congress and take action on his own to bolster America's middle class in a State of the Union address that he used to try to breathe new life into his second term after a troubled year.
Standing in the House of Representatives chamber before lawmakers, Supreme Court justices and VIP guests, Obama declared his independence from Congress by unveiling a series of executive orders and decisions - moves likely to inflame already tense relations between the Democratic president and Republicans.
While his rhetoric was high flying, Obama's actions were relatively modest, collectively amounting to an outpouring of frustration at the pace of legislative action with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives and able to slow the president's agenda.
"I'm eager to work with all of you," Obama told the lawmakers gathered for the annual speech. "But America does not stand still - and neither will I. 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."
Obama's orders included a wage hike for federal contract workers, creation of a "starter savings account" to help millions of people save for retirement, and plans to establish new fuel efficiency standards for trucks.
He said he was driven to act by the widening gap between rich and poor and the fact that while the stock market has soared, average wages have barely budged.
"Inequality has deepened," Obama said. "Upward mobility has stalled. The cold hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by, let alone get ahead. And too many still aren't working at all."
In an emotional, flag-waving finish to his speech, Obama drew a standing ovation from people of all political stripes by saluting the heroism of Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg. The Army Ranger survived a roadside blast in Afghanistan and has recovered to the point where he attended the speech, seated next to first lady Michelle Obama.
"Like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit," Obama said.
In a nod to bipartisanship, Obama drew applause with a brief tribute to John Boehner, "the son of a barkeeper" who rose to become speaker of the House of Representatives and the top Republican in Congress. Boehner gave Obama a thumbs-up.
Obama's political objective in the address was to create a narrative for Democrats to use as they seek to head off Republicans eager to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats in November elections and build on their majority in the House.
The party in control of the White House typically loses seats in these so-called mid-term elections, but Democrats feel they stand a chance of limiting their losses or even making some gains.
To that end, Obama drew loud applause by underscoring in particular the economic plight of women, who he noted make up about half the US workforce but still earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. Women voters helped re-elect Obama in 2012.
"This year, let's all come together - Congress, the White House and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street - to give every woman the opportunity she deserves, because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds," he said. - Reuters