Obama issues sweeping challenges during State of the Union address

World Today

President Barack Obama shakes hands after delivering the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool)

President Barack Obama, undaunted by the new Republican majority in Congress, issued sweeping challenges Tuesday night to do more for the poor and middle class and to end the nasty partisan political fight that has characterized his presidency.

Obama said it was time for Americans to “turn the page” on years of economic troubles, terrorism and lengthy wars, using his sixth State of the Union speech to outline new tax policies that would hit the wealthiest Americans and give breaks to the middle class.

While calling for a new era of comity, Obama outlined an agenda that showed he was not going to curtail his own plans in favor of Republican priorities.

While he appealed for “better politics” in Washington and pledged to work with Republicans, the president touted bread-and-butter Democratic economic proposals and vowed to veto Republican efforts to dismantle his signature achievements — in particular his health care and financial reform laws.

Obama’s proposed increased tax rates for wealthy Americans with much of the new revenue earmarked for measures to benefit low- and middle-income earners who have seen wages stagnate for years. While he made a bold proposal, tax-averse Republicans are unlikely to act on the president’s plan.

“Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?” Obama asked. “Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”

The Republicans were quick to respond.

“Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare,” said new Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, referring to Obama’s health care overhaul. “It’s a mindset that gave us political talking points, not serious solutions.”

While the economy dominated the president’s address, he also promoted his recent decision to normalize Cuban relations and asked for a new congressional approval and funding for the military campaign against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

“I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL,” Obama said, referring to the Islamic State group.

The president also called for legislation to guard against cyberattacks.

In a rare move away from his own party, Obama renewed his call for fast-tracking free trade agreements with Asia and Europe, generating more applause from pro-trade Republicans than skeptical Democrats.

While Republicans are unlikely to pass the new tax proposals, Obama is putting the opposition in the unappealing spot of blocking measures that would offer broad economic benefits to the middle class.

Report complied with information from The Associated Press