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State of the Union: Obama Slams Republicans; Calls for Minimum Wage Raise, Action on Climate Change, Immigration Reform and Gun Control

In a speech that laid out a sweeping investment agenda, the president also chided Republicans for taking U.S. from 'one manufactured crisis to the next.'
 
 
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Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

 
 
 
 

President Barack Obama took the occasion of his State of the Union address Tuesday night to lay a largely progressive agenda, while calling out Republicans for putting the national economy in peril, and with it, the very future of the nation.

Specifically, the president addressed the Republican plan to allow automatic, across-the-board spending cuts, known as the sequester, to take effect because of the refusal of GOP leaders to cut a deal with Obama for more targeted spending cuts and revenue increases. He also called out Republicans for a threat made by some to force a shutdown of the government by refusing to approve the next continuing resolution -- a piece of legislation that allows the government to function in the absence of a budget.

“The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next,” Obama said. “We can’t do it.”

He also made a point of referencing the moment that gave birth to the sequester deal, when in 2011, Republicans in Congress refused to raise the debt ceiling until they exacted a promise of spending cuts from the president. Without the previously routine raising of the debt ceiling, the U.S. would have defaulted on its debt, likely plunging the country into depression, and taking much of the world’s economy with it.

“Let’s agree, right here, right now, to keep the people’s government open and pay our bills on time and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America,” Obama said.

A Confident Tone

Throughout his appearance before the joint session of Congress, Obama exuded a confidence that set Tuesday night’s address apart from his previous State of the Union speeches, laying out the most progressive agenda heard in decades from the presidential podium in the chamber of the House of Representatives.

While Obama sounded his familiar calls for broad investments in infrastructure and clean technologies, he also outlined goals for education that included universal pre-school and well as technical skills training through the kinds of apprentice programs used in Germany.

And in a move likely to cause consternation among the one percent, the president called on Congress not simply to raise the minimum wage, but to tie future increases, automatically, to upticks in the cost of living. While the raise he called for in the wage -- to $9.00 per hour -- still offers workers a paltry living, the idea of tying the wage to the cost of living is a very big deal. Twitter traffic related to the speech peaked, according The Atlantic's Garance Franke-Ruta, when the president put forward his minimum wage proposal.

Taking on Climate-Change Deniers

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and a more recent Northeast blizzard, Obama seized the moment to make his case for taking on the challenge of climate change. Among the many devastating cuts the sequester will effect, the president noted, are cuts to energy and other scientific research. Then he declared the truth, so shocking to so many, that climate change is indeed real and that something must be done about it.

“Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend,” Obama said. “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.”

Take that, Flat Earth Society! Pow to you, Petroleum Patriarchs!

However, notes AlterNet’s Tara Lohan, the president offered mixed signals on how to meet the nation’s energy needs, and failed to address the still unresolved fate of the Keystone XL pipeline. Lohan writes:

 
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