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First State of the Union speech by President Obama: 'We face a deficit of trust'
On health-care reform, the signature domestic issue of his first year, Obama pleaded for a new sense of bipartisan cooperation "as temperatures cool" to save legislation that stalled earlier this month.
The president accepted blame for its slow movement, saying that it is a "complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became. I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people."
But even as he sought input from his adversaries and acknowledged a failed process that has "left most Americans wondering what's in it for them," Obama did not spell out a specific road map or a timeline for congressional action.
"By the time I'm finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year," he said. "Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Co-pays will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small-business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans. And neither should the people in this chamber."
Obama laid out specific business initiatives in his speech, all linked by their connection to job-creation. Among his proposals: extending bonus depreciation, which allows companies to recover the costs of capital expenditures at an accelerated pace, amounting to what White House aides said was a 10 percent corporate tax reduction over the next two years.
As expected, Obama proposed a three-year freeze on discretionary spending and promised to let tax cuts on wealthy individuals expire. And he said he will issue an executive order creating a deficit commission to confront the long-term fiscal challenge from Medicare and Social Security.
One week after the Supreme Court loosened the restrictions on corporate contributions to political campaigns, Obama challenged Congress to supersede the decision. "I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities," he said. "They should be decided by the American people, and that's why I'm urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong."
A new course
Sitting in a box with the first lady were nearly two dozen guests invited to illustrate pieces of the president's agenda, recent events and examples of inspiration. Missing from the audience were Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, the requisite member of his Cabinet absent in the event of a national emergency, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was attending meetings abroad.
When he turned his attention to foreign policy in the speech, Obama confronted critics such as former vice president Richard B. Cheney, who have accused him of making the country weaker by engaging the nation's enemies and banning torture of terrorism suspects.
"Let's put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough," Obama said. "Let's reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values."
The president urged action on energy legislation, linking success to the creation of new jobs. He called for construction of new nuclear power plants, new offshore oil drilling and passage of climate change legislation.
Repeating a commitment he has made to the gay community, Obama vowed to end the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy and urged Congress to pass legislation opening the military fully to gay men and lesbians.