Obama focuses on middle class but not on federal workers in State of the Union

February 13, 2013

President Obama gave his State of the Union address Tuesday. According to Scott Wilson, Obama made the case that building back up the middle class is priority number one:

President Obama challenged Congress on Tuesday night to assist an American middle class squeezed by rising costs and stagnant wages, making clear that he will devote much of his second term to closing the income gap between rich and poor.

In his first State of the Union address since reelection, Obama called restoring the country’s middle-class promise “our generation’s task,” casting the ability to work and prosper as a basic American principle in jeopardy because of a changing economy and partisan dysfunction in Washington.

Arguing for an active government role to tackle inequality, Obama proposed a series of ways — some old, some new — to improve access to education and expand job training programs. He would raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour — a nearly 25 percent bump — over the next three years.

Many of his previous economic plans have stalled in a divided Congress. But speaking from a position of political strength — and facing a deficit of less than $1 trillion for the first time in his administration — Obama suggested that the American public supports many of his goals, even if many in the chamber do not.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union. (The Washington Post)

In his speech, Obama discussed many issues facing our nation. He did not, however, mention the federal workforce, which Josh Hicks says “faces serious concerns about the threat of cutbacks:”

Obama’s closest reference was a remark about the deep automatic spending reductions known as sequestration, which will take place if Congress fails to come up with an alternative deficit-reduction plan by March 1. The president described the provisions as “sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts.”

From there, Obama quickly moved on to drawing a line, saying he would not slash entitlement programs to avoid those impacts.

“Some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training, Medicare and Social Security benefits,” the president said. “That idea is even worse.”

Obama later suggested a compromise, saying he could “embrace the need for modest reforms” to Medicare, which is the federal health-care program for retirees.


First lady Michelle Obama hugs Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton of Chicago as Nathaniel A. Pendleton Sr. applauds before President Obama's State of the Union speech at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

One way to look at Obama’s speech is by the numbers. The Fix’s Rachel Weiner writes:

6,419: The number of words in Obama’s speech. It’s the president’s second-shortest State of the Union, after his 2009 address, and took an hour to deliver.

637: The number of tweets sent by members of Congress during the speech. There were 1.36 million total tweets from the start of Obama’s speech to the end of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s response.

101: The number of lines in Obama’s speech that were followed by applause, according to the transcript. Some of the biggest bipartisan standing ovations: when Obama called for passing comprehensive immigration reform, when he pledged to encourage fatherhood, when he announced that the war in Afghanistan will end in 2014, and when he told the story of Desiline Victor, the 102-year-old Miami woman who stood in line for hours waiting to vote.

8: The number of times Obama used the word “stronger.” The theme of his speech was not that the state of the union is strong but that it has improved — and will continue to improve if Congress passes the items on his agenda.

Related:

- Fact Checker: State of the Union — a matter of measured speech

- 5 takeaways from the State of the Union

- Obama, in State of the Union, makes case that middle class is job one

- Congressional women key to giving gun victims the vote they deserve

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