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State of the Union 2015: Barack Obama pledges economic policies to benefit all Americans

In his annual State of the Union address to Congress, President Barack Obama has declared an end to the financial crisis and pledged economic policies to benefit all Americans.

Barack Obama outlined his strategy for “middle-class economics in a speech devised to appeal to working families”.

“It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next 15 years,” he said.

However, the plans are unlikely to make it past a Republican-controlled Congress.

In a speech which he described as more focused on values than policies, Barack Obama declared America had turned a page after the worst recession since the Depression.

The president said he planned to build on this growth by providing working families with help in the form of sick and maternity leave and affordable childcare.

“Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”

His speech included plans to build a competitive economy by improving America’s infrastructure and providing free access to community college.

“This plan is your chance to graduate ready for a new economy, without a load of debt,” Barack Obama said.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

At the weekend, the White House pledged to close tax loopholes on large inheritances, raise capital gains tax on the richest earners from 23.8% to 28% and introduce new fees on US financial companies with assets about $50 billion.

Some senior members of the Republican party dismissed this as “class warfare”.

Other plans outlined by the president include:

  • improve statutory sick leave and minimum wage
  • help nine million students to pay for community college
  • stronger cybersecurity and consumer protection
  • continue with plans to shut the prison in Guantanamo
  • equal pay for men and women

On foreign policy, Barack Obama said America reserved the “right to act unilaterally” in hunting down terrorists and called on Congress to pass a resolution to authorize the use of force against Islamic State.

The president reiterated his belief that the US could negotiate an agreement to prevent Iran gaining nuclear weapons and said he would veto any new sanctions bill which threatens this.

He said his decision to end America’s long-standing policy on Cuba and try something new had the potential to “end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere”.

Alan Gross, who was recently released after spending five years in a Cuban prison, was among Michelle Obama’s guests for the speech.

In ending his address, Barack Obama said he was optimistic he could work with Congress, despite months of political gridlock.

“I have no more campaigns to run. My only agenda for the next two years is the same as the one I’ve had since the day I swore an oath on the steps of this Capitol – to do what I believe is best for America,” he said.

But consensus with the Republican party on many of the issues he outlined is unlikely.

In their official rebuttal, Republican senator and rising star, Joni Ernst, said Americans have not seen solutions from Barack Obama and criticized his health and immigration policies.

“Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like ObamaCare,” she said.

The senator called on Barack Obama to work with Republicans on issues where they might have common ground – including a trade deal and tax code reform.

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