President Barack Obama challenged Republicans on major tax and entitlement proposals in Tuesday's State of the Union address, unveiling sweeping new initiatives to boost the middle class while taking aim at GOP recalcitrance.
The president traveled to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for the annual speech, where he pressed Republicans to allow his proposals on issues ranging from taxes and entitlements to guns and immigration to move forward. While Obama seemed determined to advance his ambitious agenda, he must race against a window of opportunity that often closes quickly on president in their second terms
Moreover, the president's plans will have to survive the brier patch of Capitol Hill, where Republicans have strenuously opposed much of Obama's agenda and are girding for a major springtime showdown on budgets and the swift, automatic spending cuts known as the sequester.
"Let's be clear: deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan," said Obama, who argued that his second term priorities did not represent "bigger government," but rather, "smarter government."
Obama spent much of the first half of his speech challenging Republicans on that central issue after two years of legislating in Washington that saw the government lurch from the brink of a shut down to the brink of a debt-limit default to the brink of automatic tax hikes.
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"Let's agree, right here, right now, to keep the people's government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America," the president said.
The assertive rhetoric from Obama recalled the themes on which he successfully campaigned for re-election last fall. Tuesday's speech mostly lived up to its billing by the White House as a coda to the liberal call-to-arms in Obama's second inaugural address on issues ranging from government spending to gay rights and immigration reform.
One issue on which Obama did not campaign - stricter gun controls - featured more poignantly in Tuesday's speech. Gun violence has unwittingly become a cornerstone of Obama's second term agenda following the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn. last December.
Gun control is an issue on which Obama faces stiffer Republican resistance, and the president took a much more personal tack in pressing lawmakers to take up his proposals. He turned victims of high-profile shootings in attendance at Tuesday's speech in urging lawmakers to, at the very least, allow his gun proposals a vote.
"Gabby Giffords deserves a vote," he said, referring to the critically injured former Arizona congresswoman in the House chamber. "The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote."