President Obama delivered his fifth State of the Union address on Tuesday, making pledges on minimum wage and health care, among others.
Here are some key points from the address:
President Barack Obama didn’t say the K-word.
No mention of Keystone XL – the controversial and long-delayed pipeline that would unlock Alberta’s vast carbon-laden oil sands which have been targeted by environmental activists as the world’s dirtiest oil. Frustrated Canadians, including foreign Minister John Baird who implored the Obama administration for a decision – any decision, even the wrong one – rather than more delay earlier this month, will have to keep waiting. Aside perhaps from a few Canadians, no one expected Mr. Obama to announce anything about the pipeline in the speech. He didn’t even say “Keystone” which may place its importance in perspective. Climate change activists heard only another vague promise. “When our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did,” the President said.
$10.10 is the new minimum for some
Why $10.10? Because that’s the minimum hourly wage on which a full-time worker could support a family of three and clear – just – the poverty line. Mr. Obama, who was ignored by Congress last year when he pitched for a nation-wide $9-hour minimum wage, set the level for federal contract workers – the gardeners and cleaners and cafeteria staff – who work for private companies at $10.10 an hour. It will boost incomes for hundreds of thousands. But it’s mainly designed to goad Congress into action. “Say yes. Give America a raise,” urged the President.
New agenda, old items
On his watch, Mr. Obama has turned missile-firing drones into the weapon of choice as the U.S. hunts those whom the President has approved for elimination – even some American citizens. Last night, Mr. Obama said he wanted to put new, unspecified limits on the targeted assassinations by drones over foreign countries. Meanwhile, the President, stung by revelations that U.S. spy agencies – also on his watch – have been Hoovering up masses of data, including every phone call along with hacking mobile apps to mine more information, said he wanted to restore public confidence so “that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated.” And the President who vowed to close Guantanamo Bay within a year of taking office says he still wants to do it.
Former president George W. Bush tried and failed to persuade a recalcitrant Congress to reform America’s immigration system and bring the estimated 10 to15 million illegal aliens out of the shadows with some sort of decent and humane route to lawful residency. Mr. Obama renewed the push in his speech just as he did last year. Only this time, with mid-term elections looming and the Republican Party desperately in need of votes among Hispanics, it might happen.
The U.S. has a “broken health-care system,” the President admitted, adding: “And in case you haven’t heard, we’re in the process of fixing that.” Mr. Obama said more than nine million people have signed up for the new scheme, dubbed Obamacare. He intends to provide close to universal health care by fining anyone who refuses to buy coverage and subsidizing the poor to help them pay. Stay tuned as the mid-term elections loom and Republicans take aim.
State of the Union speeches inevitably feature dozens of applause lines that predictably produce waves of clapping from a president’s party faithful and stony silence from his opponents. But there was nothing staged about the standing ovation for Army Ranger Sergeant Cory Remsburg, who spent months in a coma after a roadside bomb nearly killed him in Afghanistan. Partially paralyzed, blind in one eye, the veteran sat next to First Lady Michelle Obama during the address. Mr. Obama lauded the wounded warrior as someone who “does not quit,” prompting the emotional outpouring of the night.
Where credit is due
Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose arm-twisting was crucial on securing Syria’s agreement, may be surprised to know that “American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated.” Mr. Obama also touted the deal with Iran, urging hawks in Congress to give diplomacy a chance. It could, said the President, end the risk of war with Iran.
“America does not stand still, and neither will I,” said the President who heads out of frigid Washington on Wednesday for a two-day, four-state road trip to sell his call for action. Stops in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Tennessee will give Mr. Obama a chance to reprise his message from the hour-long, State of the Union speech.