President Obama waved the flag of economic fairness Tuesday evening, pledging in his State of the Union address to fight for the middle class, punish businesses that take American jobs overseas and reform the tax code to give “a fair shot” and a “fair share” to those who have suffered in the hard times that have dominated his presidency.
He made no mention of any of the Republicans who are battling to oust him from office. But by talking so passionately about the inequities of a tax code that favors the wealthy – on the same day that Mitt Romney, his wealthiest rival, released his taxes – Obama did not really need to name names. Romney’s disclosures and the overall 2012 campaign hovered over the annual speech, as always happens in an election year.
With the stakes raised and an audience expected to reach 50 million, the president used the occasion to build on the populist theme he first struck last month in a speech in Kansas. “Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that does the same,” he said. “It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts, and no cop-outs. An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody.”
He called economic fairness “the defining issue of our time,” adding, “We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”
Stressing the economic mess he inherited and the steps he insisted have started to right the ship of state, he also used the speech to both reach out to Congress and to warn the members seated before him that he would not meekly surrender to efforts to torpedo his agenda. “As long as I’m president, I will work with anyone in this chamber to build on this momentum,” he said. “But I intend to fight obstruction with action.”
He stated he will not let Washington return to the status quo that existed before he took office. “We will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profit,” he said. “Tonight, I want to speak about how we move forward, and lay out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last – an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.”
The president said, “The state of our Union is getting stronger. And we’ve come too far to turn back now.”
His blueprint includes many proposals previously requested by the White House, including extension of the payroll tax cut, extension and reform of unemployment compensation, comprehensive immigration reform, and the imposition of a millionaires’ tax to prevent the wealthiest Americans from paying lower tax rates than the middle class. But he also unveiled some new proposals. These include the call for a minimum tax on corporate profits that would be imposed on American concerns that move their business overseas in search of lower taxes. Additionally, he proposed new tax incentives for companies creating jobs domestically, urged creation of a new trade enforcement unit, and promised several measures aimed at controlling college tuition costs and reining in student loan interest rates.
On the energy front, the president boasted of America’s near 100-year supply of natural gas and announced that the Pentagon will make the largest renewable energy purchase in history – one gigawatt.
Reaching back to the speech that propelled him onto the national stage, his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he added, “What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them.”