(Washington, DC) -- As he enters his sixth year in the White House, President Obama is unveiling a decidedly populist agenda. Delivering the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, the President argued that millions of struggling families are not benefiting from an improving economy. Obama said income inequality has deepened and "upward mobility has stalled." He urged Congress to embrace "concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class." The President also vowed to use executive actions, whenever possible, if Congress is not more proactive.
Citing economic progress, the President said unemployment is at the lowest point in five years. He noted falling deficits, a rebounding housing market and a resurgent manufacturing sector. Obama said corporate profits and stock prices have never been higher. He noted that 2014 could be a "breakthrough year" for the U.S. but warned that partisan gridlock in Washington could continue to hinder a more robust recovery. He urged Republicans and Democrats to set aside differences and make 2014 a "year of action."
The President called for a boost in the national minimum wage. He said it will help families while giving business customers "more money to spend." Obama added, "Give America a raise." He said he will soon issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay federally-funded employees at least ten-dollars-and-ten-cents per hour.
Obama urged Congress to extend longterm unemployment benefits. Jobless aid for more than a million-and-a-half Americans expired on December 28th. The President called them "hardworking, responsible Americans" who "need help right now." He also unveiled new jobs training initiatives and asked lawmakers for their support.
The President called for equal pay for women, saying it's time to end policies that belong in an episode of "Mad Men." He also defended the healthcare reform law and chided congressional Republicans for repeated efforts to repeal or hinder the law. Obama said, "Let's not have another forty-something votes to repeal a law that's already helping millions of Americans." He challenged Republican critics to offer specific alternatives which would cut costs, cover more people increase choice.
The President argued that is time to fix a broken immigration system. He said comprehensive immigration reform will boost the economy and further reduce deficits. The Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill last year but the measure stalled in the Republican-led House. Recent moves in the House suggest the possibility of some immigration legislation being voted on by summer.
Citing the deadly school shooting massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, Obama vowed to "keep trying" to improve gun safety, with or without Congress. The Newtown tragedy in late 2012 prompted a huge push by the administration for new gun controls but the efforts fell flat in Congress.
The President defended diplomatic efforts to end the civil war in Syria and prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. He also threatened to veto new congressional sanctions on Iran while international negotiations with Tehran are ongoing. Meantime, Obama vowed to continue pursuing a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.