Obama (white house photo)

Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama delivered his annual State of the Union address to a gridlocked Congress. Despite his 42 percent approval rating, the president was optimistic of the coming year, which he called a “year of action.”

President Obama spoke about the economy, unemployment and minimum wage, education and job training, immigration and women’s rights, foreign affairs and the Affordable Care Act — similar to 2013’s State of the Union Address.

However, in contrast to his previous address, the president made it clear to Congress that progress would be made — with or without bipartisan agreement. In his introduction, the president stated, “The question for everyone in this chamber, running through every decision we make this year, is whether we are going to help or hinder this progress.”

The first item of focus was unemployment — a problem that has plagued our nation since the latest economic recession. As he promised during his campaign, the president pledged continued federal support for small businesses — especially high tech enterprises — and to continue to work with multinational corporations to bring outsourced jobs back to the United States.

Later in his address, the president placed Republican lawmakers in the spotlight for their failure to restore an unemployment insurance bill. With the sly tone of a parent reprimanding a child, he told House Republicans, “Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people.”

The next subject he discussed was energy and the environment. He described natural gas as the “bridge fuel” from oil to renewable resources and restated his long-standing support of clean energy sources. Obama also proudly announced that the United States has reduced its carbon footprint more than any other nation in the past ten years.

Many liberals criticized Obama for the brevity of his discussion on immigration. Although he told Congress that “…it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders and law enforcement – and fix our broken immigration system,” he did not announce any initiative to move the issue forward.

His discussion on education was considerably more thorough. He revealed that Vice President Joe Biden will be leading an “across the board reform of America’s training programs to make sure they have one mission — train Americans with skills that employers need and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now.”

The president then continued to public education, calling for Congress to reform public education funding. He also emphasized the importance of providing a good education in the STEM fields, revealed a program to provide over 12,000 schools with broadband access within two years and observed that standardized testing may not be the correct way to assess the academic progression of students.

Obama asked Congress to support Pre-K initiatives across the nation, stating, “One of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high quality early education.” He will also be creating a congressional taskforce to help push this issue in Congress. Briefly speaking on higher education, he asked Congress to make sure that “the American Dream doesn’t look like an empty promise,” by offering incentives to public colleges to lower the cost of tuition and the creation of debt management programs.

After a clean segue, the president made a fiery appeal for equal pay for women. “Today women make up about half our work force. But, they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014 that is an embarrassment. Women deserve equal pay for equal work.”

Receiving a great reaction from the women of congress, he continued, asking for guaranteed maternity leave. “It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode,” joked the president. “I believe when women succeed, America succeeds.”

Keeping with the theme of inequality, Obama then discussed the proposition to increase the national minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. “Give America a raise,” the president asked of Congress. To show his commitment to this proposal, he announced his intention to create an executive order that will require federal contractors to pay their employees a wage of at least $10.10 an hour.

Grouping the controversial subjects together, Obama changed the discussion to healthcare. “I do not expect to convince my Republican friends of the merits of this law,” he conceded. He defended the Affordable Care Act, pointing out the high number of people who have registered, and how no American can be denied coverage. He asked citizens everywhere to help their friends and family register by March 31.

The president also announced the creation of “myRA,” a new federal program for creating a retirement fund. The new system will allow for automated IRA in addition to several other features that will be announced soon. More details on this new program will be revealed over the next few months.

The final topic discussed was the military and foreign affairs. President Obama promised that the remaining 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan would be removed by the end of the year, except for a select few who will assist with the training of the Afghani military.

Further, the president encouraged the use of diplomacy in both present and future international affairs. Rounding off the address, Obama pledged continued support for Syria and Israel, reported that the dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program is still on track and appealed for support for Ukraine.

“America has never come easy,” the president concluded, “But if we work together… with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast toward tomorrow, I know it’s within our reach. Believe it. God bless you, and God bless America.”

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