WASHINGTON — Uncompromising and politically emboldened, President Barack Obama urged a deeply divided Congress Tuesday night to embrace his plans to use government money to create new jobs and strengthen the nation’s middle class.
He declared Republican ideas for reducing the federal deficit “even worse” than the unpalatable deals Washington had to stomach during his first term.
In his first State of the Union address since winning re-election, Obama conceded economic revival is an “unfinished task,” but he claimed clear progress and said he was seeking to build on it as he embarks on four more years in office.
“We have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is strong,” Obama said, speaking before a joint session of Congress and a television audience of millions.
In specific proposals for his second term, Obama called for increased federal spending to fix the nation’s roads and bridges, the first increase in the minimum wage in six years and expansion of early education to every American 4-year-old. Seeking support from Republicans, he promised that none of his proposals would increase the deficit “by a single dime.”
Obama also announced new steps to reduce the U.S. military footprint abroad, with 34,000 American troops withdrawing from Afghanistan within a year. And he had a sharp rebuke for North Korea, which launched a nuclear test just hours before his remarks, saying, “Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further.”
Despite the pressing foreign policy concerns, jobs and growth dominated Obama’s prime-time address, underscoring the degree to which the economy remains a vulnerability for the president and could disrupt his plans for pursuing a broader agenda, including immigration overhaul, stricter gun laws and climate change legislation.