In his second State Of The Union address, President Obama emphasized the changes the country needs to make in order to have a shot at “winning the future,” a phrase that was both the title of the speech and one that was repeated frequently throughout.
The President began by referencing the recent shootings in Tucson, which had the short-term effect of encouraging members of Congress to sit with members of the other party during the speech. But though there has been contentious debate over the past year, “there’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause,” Obama said. “Amid all the noise and passion and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater - something more consequential than party or political preference.”
“What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight,” he continued, “but whether we can work together tomorrow.”
“The challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.” One of these challenges is the economy, which Obama said has improved: “Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.”
But, he said, “these steps we’ve taken over the last two years may have broken the back of this recession - but to win the future, we’ll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.”
One of the ways to “win the future,” the President continued, is through innovation. For example, when the Soviet Union beat America into space with the launch of Sputnik, “we had no idea how we’d beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t even there yet. NASA didn’t exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets, we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.”
“This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” Obama said.
He described how he’ll send a budget to Congress in a few weeks that will “invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology.” He added that he will also ask Congress to eliminate the “billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.”
Part of the goal, Obama said, is to “break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.” And, he said, “by 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources. Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all - and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.”
The President also discussed the importance of immigration reform, first in connection with the hundreds of thousands of students in American schools who are not citizens. “But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.”
About illegal immigration in general, Obama said “we should take [it] on, once and for all.”
“I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. I know that debate will be difficult I know it will take time. But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort.”
He described the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, and said he aimed to give “80% of Americans access to high-speed rail” within 25 years. And, Obama said, “within the next five years, we’ll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98% of all Americans.”
About health care, he referenced the recent efforts to repeal the law: “Now I have heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about our new health care law.” He added that he’s willing to consider ways to improve the law, but “what I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when a health insurance company can deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition.”
Referring back to the economy, Obama said that the government needs to deal with the debt. “We have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable.” He then proposed a domestic spending freeze beginning this year, which would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next ten years, and “will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president.” Part of the “painful” cuts will come from defense spending. “The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.”
Reducing health care costs, including in Medicare and Medicaid, will also help reduce the deficit. The “health insurance law we passed last year will slow these rising costs, which is part of why nonpartisan economists have said that repealing the health care law would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to our deficit. Still, I’m willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.”
He added that we “should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.”
Then there were the tax cuts, about which Obama pointedly said: “If we truly care about our deficit, we simply can’t afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. Before we take money away from our schools, or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax breaks.”
“It’s not a matter of punishing their success,” Obama said. “It’s about promoting America’s success.” One way he suggested was simplifying the individual tax code.
“We can’t win the future with a government of the past.”
John McCain was one Senator who gave Obama a standing ovation when he said that if a bill comes to his desk with earmarks in it, “I will veto it.”
About foreign policy, Obama briefly addressed the end of the Iraq War, before talking up how the intelligence community is disrupting al Qaeda’s efforts, both abroad and at home: “As extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family.”
As for the war in Afghanistan, Obama promised that this year, we will work “to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.”
He also called for college campuses to begin allowing ROTC recruiters back on campus now that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been repealed.
Obama wrapped things up with a message of unity: “We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution. We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try. We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything is possible. No matter who you are. No matter where you come from.”
“America has been the story of ordinary people who dared to dream. That’s how we win the future,” he said.
Here’s the full speech: