President Barack Obama used the 2015 State of the Union address to acknowledge the nation’s ongoing economic improvements in the years following the 2008 recession, which defined the start to his presidency.
“The shadow of crisis has passed, and the state of the union is strong,” Obama said.
The president said the unemployment rate was the lowest it has been since he took office, at 5.6 percent as of December 2014. He said gas prices were lower, the stock market “has doubled” and the deficit has been cut by two-thirds.
Shifting the focus from the economy to the workforce, Obama urged Congress to enact legislation on equal pay for men and women, in addition to allowing maternity leave for pregnant workers.
The president expanded on his administrations education plan, including the much anticipated proposal to make the first two years of college free for the majority of Americans.”Lower the cost of community college to zero,” he said, and “student debt shouldn’t derail anyone’s dreams.”
He emphasized the need for “real world education” and “hands-on” incentives to improve student education and anticipate the future needs of America’s labor market. In exchange for free tuition, students are expected to maintain a 2.5 GPA, be enrolled at least half-time, and be taking classes counting towards a degree or certificate.
“Practical, not partisan, ideas” are key to accomplishing these plans, Obama said. Further details about how the proposal will be paid for are expected to be outlined in his annual budget due next month.
Progressing from domestic issues to foreign policy, the president called on Congress to authorize the use of force against the terror group ISIS. He rallied support for the international coalition of countries, which are already coordinated in fighting the “bankrupt extremism” of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
President Obama also acknowledged the recent diplomatic developments in U.S. relations with Cuba, and called for an end to the embargo. “We are ending our policy that was long past its expiration date. When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, its time to try something new,” said Obama.
He went on to talk about the progress made by U.S. efforts to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program, which he said has been halted as a result of the economic and trade sanctions already in place. His promise to veto any bill calling for stricter sanctions was a direct challenge to calls for such action from Republican lawmakers.
Obama made reference to the recent high-profile security hacks on American companies and sought bipartisan support in efforts to secure the U.S. from cyber attacks, painting the issue as one of economic and national security. “If we don’t act, we’ll leave our nation and our economy vulnerable,” he said.
Moving on to the topic of climate change, Obama spoke optimistically about the new partnership between the United States and China, who recently committed to limiting their emissions for the first time. The president expects this powerful new ally to ramp up global efforts to address the rising sea levels and extreme weather patterns associated with climate change, saying that it “poses an immediate risk to our security – we should act like it.”
Obama shifted the focus back to United States, and once again, challenged Congress to support his efforts to close Guantanamo Bay, couching the message amid broader remarks condemning stereotypes and torture, while praising free speech and human dignity.
President Obama concluded the address with strong calls for unity and bipartisanship, and an end to the bickering and gridlock which has plagued his presidency. “We are more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are the United States,” he said.
Callings Americans “a tight-knit family,” he expressed optimism for the future of the nation based on the progress the United States has made on the most pressing economic, diplomatic, and social issues of our time.
“Fifteen years into this new century we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off and begun again the work of remaking America,” Obama said. “We have laid a new foundation, a brighter future is ours to write. Lets begin this new chapter together and lets start the work right now.”