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President Obama Delivers State of the Union Address

Lynn Jenkins, Esq.

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Each time I look at that flag, I’m reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those fifty stars and those thirteen stripes. No one built this country on their own. This Nation is great because we built it together. This Nation is great because we worked as a team. This Nation is great because we get each other’s backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard. As long as we’re joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong.

–Closing Excerpt from President Barack H. Obama’s 2012 State of the Union Address

President Barack H. Obama delivered his fourth State of the Union address two Tuesdays ago to both Houses of Congress, members of the

SCREENSHOT BY LYNN JENKINS

Supreme Court, and top armed forces officials. His speech was attended by the First Lady, cabinet members, White House aides, and honored guests, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. He rallied the Congress and the country to join him in his vision of “An America Built to Last.”

When President Obama was invited to enter the chamber, the mood was sober, respectful, even subdued. In contrast to his first State of the Union speech in 2009, this Congress – including members of his own party – did not greet him with a thunderous applause of welcome. Unlike 2009, this year is a year of election politics in which President Obama’s poll numbers do not either guarantee him a second term or ensure that the Democrats can retain control of the White House and ride on his coattails to control both Houses of Congress.

Thus, both sides of the congressional aisle gave the President a chilly reception, highly indicative of the relationship between the legislative and executive branches of our government. Reportedly, the President and the Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) have not spoken to each other in over a month. Their greeting at the podium prior to the delivery of the President’s address was cordial, but certainly not friendly.

The State of the Union address is constitutionally mandated by Article II, Section 3 of the U. S. Constitution. This provision of the Constitution states: “He [The President] shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Traditionally, most U.S. presidents have complied with this constitutional mandate by simply filing a report with Congress. President Woodrow Wilson made the first clear break with this tradition in 1913 by delivering his annual report before a joint session of Congress. Since then, few presidents have failed to take advantage of the opportunity to share his vision of the nation in a written prepared speech – via radio by Coolidge in 1923, via television by Truman in 1947, via the World Wide Web by Clinton in 1997.

President Obama’s State of the Union speech focused on numerous social and economic issues, but the thrust of his address placed emphasis on the economy and energy development, terrorism, and tax reform.

On the issue of the economy, the President underscored the federal bailouts of the auto and banking industries as well as the immediate need to develop clean American-made energy. He highlighted that “General Motors is back on top as the world’s number one automaker” and that “Chrysler has grown faster in the U.S. than any major car company” and that “Ford is investing billions in U.S. plants and factories.” He told big banks and the banking industry in sharp, unequivocal terms that there would be no further bailouts. This was his vision and his blueprint for a continued economic recovery – a recovery that he called “fragile” and threatened by the backward momentum of partisan politics.

On energy development, he called for a future in which America controls its own resources. In this regard, he directed his administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources, citing increased American oil production and citing that our country relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past sixteen years. He also directed his administration to allow development of clean energy on public lands and lauded the commitment to clean energy use by the Department of Defense. Further, he explicitly recognized that our government has subsidized the oil companies for over a century. He noted that such subsidization was “long enough,” especially for an industry that has “rarely been more profitable.” To this end, he asked Congress to support the clean energy industry by passing appropriate clean energy tax credits.

In his address, President Obama also focused on the safety and the security of our nation. He repeatedly praised the service of the men and women in the armed forces, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. He stated that Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat to this country, that many al Qaeda leaders have been defeated, and that the Taliban’s push to spread terror and fear has been broken. He reminded Congress that the war in Iraq has ended, and that, for the first time in nine years, no Americans are fighting on that soil. He also renewed his commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons by continued crippling sanctions and isolation.

On the issue of tax reform, the President called for major revisions to the tax code. Citing fairness, he decried tax deductions that reward outsourcing jobs to foreign shores and big American corporations that avoid paying taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas. Conversely, he urged the expansion of tax relief to small businesses by giving them tax breaks for start-up costs. He urged Congress to pass the payroll tax cuts without delay and without tethering such cuts to other legislation. And, in one truly telling moment, he called for tax reform to include the Buffet rule: that everyone pays their fair share in taxes. He returned to his tax reform proposal of October 2011 – which Congress rejected – that those taxpayers making more than $1 million a year should not pay less than thirty percent in income taxes. He cited that to cut the deficit, the wealthiest two percent of Americans should no longer be able to hide behind loopholes and shelters in the tax code to avoid paying their fair share of taxes or to pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households.

He acknowledged the ugly truth of the tax code: “Warren Buffet pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.”

Lastly, the President chided Congress for its inability to put aside party politics and party differences to work together for a better country. He said that Americans think that Washington is broken and that nothing will ever get done. He challenged the members of both Houses to defeat that notion by ceasing to obsess over their ideological disagreements, to end party bickering, and “to lower the temperature in this town” by rejecting the viewpoint that “the two parties must be locked in a perpetual campaign of mutual destruction; that politics is about clinging to rigid ideologies instead of building consensus around common sense ideas.”

Such action of putting aside party politics and party differences – the President said – would reverse the cynicism and restore the optimism of the American people in its government. Repeatedly, he asked Congress to send him bipartisan legislation to create jobs, to repair the failing infrastructure, and to generate revenue. He pledged to immediately sign those bills. He concluded that he will work with anyone, whether Democrat or Republican, and will travel anywhere in the world to safeguard his vision of an America that is built to last.

A transcript of the President’s address can be found at the White House website (www.whitehouse.gov/).

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President Obama Delivers State of the Union Address