President Obama fights for middle class, promises vetoes in fiery State of the Union address

President Barack Obama delivers State of the Union. (White House photo by Pete Sousa.)

President Barack Obama delivers State of the Union. (White House photo by Pete Sousa.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — Refusing to bend to the new Republican Congress, President Barack Obama unveiled Tuesday night an ambitious State of the Union agenda steeped in Democratic priorities, including tax increases on the wealthy, education and child care help for the middle class and a torrent of veto threats for the GOP’s own plans.

In a shift from tradition, Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress was less a laundry list of new proposals and more an attempt to sell a story of a national economy emerging from the “shadow of crisis.” He appealed for “better politics” in Washington and pledged to work with Republicans. But he showed few signs of curtailing or tweaking his own plans to meet the GOP’s platform.

Instead, the president vowed to use his veto pen to strike down the Republican leadership’s efforts to dismantle his signature accomplishments, including his health care and financial reform laws.

“We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix,” Obama said in his hour-long address. “And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, I will veto it.”

The president sought out more common ground on foreign policy, pledging to work with Congress on a new authorization for military action against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, as well as legislation to guard against cyber attacks. In a rare move away from his own party, Obama also renewed his call for fast-tracking free trade agreements with Asia and Europe, generating more applause from pro-trade Republicans than skeptical Democrats.

Obama’s address marked the first time in his presidency that he stood before a Republican-controlled Congress. Yet the shift in the political landscape has also been accompanied by a burst of economic growth and hiring, as well as a slight increase in Obama’s once-sagging approval ratings—leaving the White House to see little incentive in acquiescing to Republicans.

After ticking through signs of the rising economy, the president turned toward Republicans sitting in the chamber and said with a wink: “This is good news, people.”
The centerpiece of Obama’s economic proposals marked a shift away from the focus on austerity and deficit reduction that has dominated his fiscal fights with Republicans. In a direct challenge to GOP economic ideology, Obama called for increasing the capital gains rate on couples making more than $500,000 annually, to 28%.

The president’s tax plan would also require estates to pay capital gains taxes on securities at the time they’re inherited and slap a fee on the roughly 100 U.S. financial firms with assets of more than $50 billion.

Much of the $320 billion in new taxes and fees would be used for measures aimed at helping the middle class, including a $500 tax credit for some families with two spouses working, expansion of the child care tax credit and a $60 billion program to make community college free.

He also has called for expanding paid leave for workers and moved on his own to lower a mortgage insurance premium rate that could attract new homebuyers.