As he has in the past, the president spoke optimistically about the trajectory of the economy, which, he has repeatedly reminded Americans, was in the depths of a recession when he took office and is now adding jobs. The unemployment rate still stands at 8.5 percent, dangerously high for an incumbent seeking a second term.
But his focus Tuesday was on economic unfairness, a theme he has emphasized in recent weeks, most most notably in a speech last month in Osawatomie, Kan.
There he declared the trickle-down economics of his Republican predecessors a failure that the country should not return to in November, and Tuesday he echoed that message.
“As long as I’m president, I will work with anyone in this chamber to build on this momentum,” Obama said. “But I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place.”
In the Republican response to his address, Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana said that “no feature of the Obama presidency has been sadder than its constant efforts to divide us, to curry favor with some Americans by castigating others.”
“As in previous moments of national danger, we Americans are all in the same boat,” Daniels said. “If we drift, quarreling and paralyzed, over a Niagara of debt, we will all suffer, regardless of income, race, gender or other category. If we fail to shift to a pro-jobs, pro-growth economic policy, there will never be enough public revenue to pay for our safety net, national security or whatever size government we decide to have.”
Many of the proposals Obama outlined Tuesday were ones he has raised before, including some left over from last year’s State of the Union address.
But all of them appeared tailored to appeal to middle-class interests and anxieties, especially those concerning the direction of the economy and where the next generation of jobs will come from.
“We will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt and phony financial profits,” he said, adding that he wants “an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers and a renewal of American values.”
Obama said he would open up new federal land to develop wind farms and solar energy plants to reduce the nation’s reliance on foreign oil.
He warned colleges and universities that they risk losing federal funding if they do not keep tuition costs down. He reiterated his call for Congress to extend the payroll tax cut through the end of the year, a benefit to working-class families.