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President Barack Obama sketched out his vision and goals in an era of divided government as he spoke to the nation in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. Here are the highlights:
Obama hailed the signs of economic recovery — a booming stock market and a jump in corporate profits. “Now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable,” he said. Obama proposed a five-year freeze on nondefense spending that would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade. He agreed to work with lawmakers on deeper cuts in the budget, vowed to veto bills with lawmakers’ pet projects and called for simplifying the tax code. He also asked Congress to eliminate the billions in subsidies to oil companies and tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.
Obama called for investing in biomedical research, information technology and clean energy technology. Among his goals: 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 and 80 percent of U.S. electricity from clean energy sources, including nuclear and clean coal as well as solar and wind. “We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices, the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers, of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It’s how we make a living,” Obama said.
Obama strongly defended his health care overhaul law, now under siege from Republicans. He expressed a willingness to improve the law, including eliminating an onerous bookkeeping requirement for small businesses. He also indicated he was open to GOP ideas on medical malpractice reform to bring down costs. “So instead of refighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and move forward,” he said.
In a speech largely devoted to domestic issues, Obama touched on foreign policy, saying the U.S. commitment to Iraq has been kept and the war is coming to an end. In Afghanistan, the drawdown of U.S. forces will begin in July as the American troops have captured Taliban strongholds and trained more Afghan security forces. “Our purpose is clear — by preventing the Taliban from re-establishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al-Qaida the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11,” Obama said. He said the U.S. stands with the people of Tunisia and all people striving for democracy.
Obama marked the end of the ban on gays serving openly in the military. “Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love,” the president said. Citing the change, he called on colleges to open their doors to military recruiters and ROTC.
Obama scoffed at a government in which the Interior Department oversees salmon in fresh water and Commerce handles salmon in saltwater. “And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked,” he joked. Obama promised to merge, consolidate and reorganize the federal government, a proposal that he would submit to Congress for a vote.
Obama acknowledged the lingering divisions from a fierce election and pleaded with Republicans and Democrats to work together, especially as they gathered just weeks after the shooting rampage in Tucson that seriously wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Many lawmakers ignored party lines and sat together for Obama’s address. “What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow,” Obama said.
Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press