In a familiar tone that even had Vice President Biden periodically donning his reading glasses and diving into papers before him, President Obama proposed increased spending on infrastructure and manufacturing, universal preschool, and raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour in the first State of the Union address of his second term.
He also chided Congress for not working fast enough to pass new gun-control laws, referencing various victims of gun violence sprinkled throughout the chamber.
“It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence, but this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans — Americans who believe in the Second Amendment — have come together around common-sense reform, like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun,” Obama said.
“Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets… these proposals deserve a vote, because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun,” he continued. “…Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote.”
Ted Nugent, guest of Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), sat quietly as media eyes trained on him during this part of the address. But despite dozens of applause interruptions for the president, the gun-control section was one of the few at which either party got especially roused.
Obama claimed “we have cleared away the rubble of crisis” with stronger job, housing, and stock markets.
“Some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training, Medicare and Social Security benefits. That idea is even worse,” he said of preventing the March 1 sequestration, even while acknowledging “the rising cost of health care for an aging population” as the biggest driver of long-term debt. “But we can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and the most powerful.”
The president also segued into global warming, imploring “for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.”
“Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it’s too late,” Obama said.
Vowing to take executive actions “to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy,” Obama also introduced his expected executive order that essentially replaces cybersecurity legislation that stalled in the Senate last Congress.
He took credit for the progress made on immigration reform, despite members of Congress moving the ball forward by forging a bipartisan framework before Obama seized it as a signature issue.
“Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my administration’s already made, putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years,” he said. “…Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away. And America will be better for it.”
One of the architects of that bipartisan framework, potential 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said in the Republican response “we need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally. But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws.”
Rubio delivered a small-government message that hit everything from ObamaCare to runaway borrowing. “There are valid reasons to be concerned about the president’s plan to grow our government. But any time anyone opposes the president’s agenda, he and his allies usually respond by falsely attacking their motives,” he said. “When we point out that no matter how many job-killing laws we pass, our government can’t control the weather, he accuses us of wanting dirty water and dirty air.”
“I would never support any changes to Medicare that would hurt seniors like my mother. But anyone who’s in favor of leaving Medicare exactly the way it is right now is in favor of bankrupting it,” Rubio continued. “…We were all heartbroken by the recent tragedy in Connecticut. We must effectively deal with the rise of violence in our country. But unconstitutionally undermining the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans is not the way to do it.”
As his words increasingly stuck in his throat, Rubio paused mid-speech and made an awkward dive for a water bottle on an unseen table, taking a swig before returning to his speech.
After the address, Rubio poked fun at himself by tweeting a photo of the Poland Spring bottle.
Standing before a Tea Party Express background, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) gave a separate response for that conservative wing, arguing “what America needs is not Robin Hood but Adam Smith.”
“All that we are, all that we wish to be is now threatened by the notion that you can have something for nothing, that you can have your cake and eat it too, that you can spend a trillion dollars every year that you don’t have,” Paul said. “…Liberals complain that the budget can’t be balanced but if you cut just one penny from each dollar we currently spend, the budget would balance within six or seven years.”
“It is often said that there is not enough bipartisanship up here. That is not true. In fact, there is plenty. Both parties have been guilty of spending too much, of protecting their sacred cows, of backroom deals in which everyone up here wins, but every taxpayer loses,” Paul continued. “It is time for a new bipartisan consensus. …The president could begin by stopping the F-16s and Abrams tanks being given to the radical Islamic government of Egypt.”
The senator called for a balanced budget amendment and threatened to take Obama to court again — like with the recent successful challenge of recess appointments — if he attempts to legislate by executive order. “I have seen the inner sanctum of Congress and believe me there is no monopoly on knowledge there,” Paul said. “…We cannot and will not allow any president to act as if he were a king. We will not let any president use executive orders to impinge on the Second Amendment. We will not tolerate secret lists of American citizens who can be killed without trial.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), whose facial expression said a thousand words during much of Obama’s speech, said the president “had an opportunity to offer a solution tonight, and he let it slip by.”
“We are only weeks away from the devastating consequences of the president’s sequester, and he failed to offer the cuts needed to replace it,” Boehner said. “In the last election, voters chose divided government which offers a mandate only to work together to find common ground. The president, instead, appears to have chosen a go-it-alone approach to pursue his liberal agenda.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) praised Obama for outlining “an agenda in which fairness is not just a principle for which to strive, but a powerful engine of growth and prosperity for all Americans.”
“So far, Republicans have shown that they would rather cut Medicare, education, and cancer research than close a single tax loophole, or ask millionaires to contribute,” Reid complained.
“Families in Washington state and across the nation are hungry for bold solutions to the challenges they see their families and neighbors confront each day. Tonight the president spoke directly to them and reassured them that their daily struggles will continue to drive his agenda,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), promising to put forward a budget plan “in the months ahead.”
“It’s fitting that President Obama gave his State of the Union on Mardi Gras Day, since he’s spent the last four years throwing record levels of taxpayer money at failed federal programs like cheap beads at a parade,” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said.
“For more than four years, the American people have been subjected to President Obama’s empty rhetoric, and tonight’s State of the Union was no different as he chose to retread the same failed agenda that has divided our country and handcuffed our economy throughout his entire presidency,” Scalise added.
“He looks to enforce a far-left philosophy on all matters rather than focus on individual rights and responsibilities and recognizing, as our founding fathers did, the preeminent role the states have through their sovereign status,” said Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho).
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who famously yelled “You lie!” during a 2009 joint session of Congress, said he hoped Obama would “extend an olive branch and work with House Republicans to help put our economy back on the right path.”
“Over the next four years, the only way our nation will begin to fully recover is if the president begins to change course,” Wilson said.
“Fourteen years ago, I sat in this chamber when President Clinton declared during his State of the Union address that the ‘era of big government is over,’” said Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.). “After listening tonight to President Obama’s State of the Union, I can sum his speech up in two words: ‘it’s back.’”