State of the Union

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By K. Levek

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 28, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 28, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The annual State of the Union address marks the president’s path for the future of the country.  In President Barack Obama’s annual address to Congress, he charted out his newest proposals in his more than an hour-long speech.


He called for more government support to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, but also said that “I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible.”

In each of his issues he called on Congress to work with him to get his new proposals done.  He promised an executive order to raise the minimum wage for some government contract workers and urged Congress to follow suit for all low-wage workers in America. He announced an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for future federal contract workers and the creation of a new Treasury savings bond for workers without access to traditional retirement options. He proposed incentives for trucks running on alternative fuels and higher efficiency standards for those running on gasoline. He also announced a meeting on working families and a review of federal job training programs.

He positioned himself as a champion of those left behind in the modern economy, showing the division between the wealthiest and other Americans saying “Those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled.”

The president’s executive action might be the most movement the issue will see for now, as it will face a long road with Republican leaders.

The top-ranking woman in the Republican congressional leadership, Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) gave the GOP response to the president’s address.  McMorris Rodgers, 44, is a somewhat new face, but was selected only five weeks ago to give the rebuttal.  In her speech she spoke about her humble roots and her experience starting a family while serving in office.

She called for building a stronger middle class to empower individual citizens rather than relying on government help.  During her 10-minute speech, she highlighted the GOP brand rather than detail an agenda, list policy points or refute each line of the president’s address.

“Our mission — not only as Republicans, but as Americans — is to once again ensure that we are not bound by where we come from, but empowered by what we can become,” she said, seated on a yellow couch. “That is the gap Republicans are working to close. It’s the gap we all face: between where you are and where you want to be.”

Following her remarks, Senator Mark Lee (D-Utah) delivered the official Tea Party response (a new tradition that began in 2011). The conservative senator — who in 2010 became one of the first Tea Party Republicans to unseat a GOP incumbent — spoke from the National Press Club and focused his remarks on income inequality.

“We are facing an inequality crisis — one to which the president has paid lip-service, but seems uninterested in truly confronting or correcting,” Lee asserted, according to a transcript released by his office. “But where does this new inequality come from? From government — every time it takes rights and opportunities away from the American people and gives them instead to politicians, bureaucrats, and special interests.”

Regardless of the Republican address, still Obama’s most emotional point of the evening came with the introduction of Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg, an Army Ranger the president had met both before and after he was ravaged by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. As Sergeant Remsburg, blind in one eye and having to learn to walk again, made it to his feet in the first lady’s box, lawmakers of both parties gave him an extended ovation.

Big moments of his speech came when he said, “opportunity should not depend on the accident of our birth but on the strength of our work ethic.”  Obama left his address with a final thought, “The question for everyone in this chamber is whether we are going to help or hinder this progress?”

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