Obama emphasizes income inequality in State of the Union address

Julia Jacobs, Assistant City Editor

Before the new Republican-dominated Congress, President Barack Obama focused on solving income inequality and easing partisan gridlock during Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

The president asserted his goal to increase the security of working families by introducing initiatives to make community college free and using tax money to fund childcare for low-income families. While touting an economy with the strongest growth in 11 years, the president ushered in a new year with values of  “middle class economics” at its core.

“At this moment — with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production — we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth,” Obama said. “It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next 15 years, and for decades to come.”

In his speech Obama proposed raising taxes on large corporations and using the savings from those capital gains tax hikes to build infrastructure.

“We need a tax code that helps working Americans trying to get a leg up in the new economy, and we can achieve that together,” Obama said.

The president said he supported raising the minimum wage and passing a law to ensure that women are paid equally to men. He also said he plans to help states adopt their own laws introducing mandatory paid sick leave.

In the wake of hacks by North Korea on Sony Pictures, Obama recommended Congress pass legislation to combat the growing threat of cybersecurity attacks.

“If we don’t act, we’ll leave our nation and our economy vulnerable,” Obama said. “If we do, we can continue to protect the technologies that have unleashed untold opportunities for people around the globe.”

On the foreign policy front, the president underscored the U.S.’s solidarity with victims of recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan and France, while calling on Congress to pass a resolution to authorize the use of force against the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS.

Quentin Heilbroner, president of Northwestern’s College Democrats, said he thought this State of the Union address had a strength that none of Obama’s previous ones had.

“I think the proposal for free community college would be an absolute revolution for our work force,” Heilbroner said. “We are slowly falling behind other industrialized countries… when it comes to getting our kids to college. If he can pull that off… I think that it would have huge, huge long-term benefits to the economy.”

Heilbroner said he thinks if Obama can work with the new Congress, which now has a Republican majority, to pass the proposals he outlined in the address, they will be successful in reaching their goals. But Sam Houskeeper, editor of Politics and Policy, a non-partisan NU student publication, is skeptical that the initiatives will pass.

“None of the things he’s asking Congress to pass are going to pass and he knows that,” Houskeeper said. “It’s just a political game.”

However, toward the end of his address Obama urged unification, challenging Congress to break out of “tired old patterns” of partisan politics and compromise on issues such as women’s healthcare access and immigration.

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