The president told U.S. lawmakers that the country's challenges outweigh its current political divisions.
Washington/Bern: In the annual State of the Union address, President Obama urged American lawmakers to support innovative research and educational opportunities as a means of maintaining U.S. economic competitiveness and ensuring its progress in the 21st century.
“This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” the president said January 25 in his address to a joint session of Congress. He was referring to the rapid American technological and scientific response that created the U.S. space program and new economic opportunities after the Soviet Union launched the first satellite into space in 1957. As a result of its quick mobilization, the United States became the first nation to put a man on the moon in 1969.
Obama referred to dramatic educational and research advances in countries like China and India, and said that he would ask Congress to fund programs in clean energy technology, biomedical research and information technology to help strengthen U.S. security, protect the environment and create new jobs in the United States.
To help pay for his proposed initiatives, Obama called on lawmakers to eliminate billions of dollars in current subsidies to American oil companies. “[I]nstead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s,” he said.
To help reduce the estimated $1.3 trillion federal budget deficit, the president also proposed a five-year freeze on domestic spending that he estimated would save more than $400 billion over the next ten years.
The president also said U.S. exports have increased and recent trade deals with India, China and South Korea will support thousands of American jobs. The United States will enforce its trade deals, he said, and will pursue new agreements with Panama and Colombia, as well as continue its Asia Pacific and global trade talks.
Obama said American leadership and global standing have been renewed. In August 2010, the United States fulfilled its promise to end all combat missions in Iraq. In addition, security control in Afghanistan is transitioning to Afghan forces. Fewer Afghans now live under control of the Taliban insurgency and in July, “we will begin to bring our troops home,” Obama said.
Terrorist safe havens in Pakistan and elsewhere are shrinking, he said, and pledged that the United States will not waver in its struggle against al-Qaida and other extremist groups.
Thanks to the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia (New START), “far fewer nuclear weapons and launchers will be deployed,” and the United States is leading efforts to secure nuclear materials around the world to prevent them from being obtained by extremists, he said.
The president cited U.S. assistance to southern Sudanese, who were able to freely vote for their self-determination earlier in January after years of war, and acknowledged the “same desire to be free” in Tunisia, where popular protests proved to be “more powerful than the writ of a dictator.”
The United States “stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people,” he said.
He urged Congress to enact immigration reforms that would protect U.S. borders and enforce its laws against illegal immigrants while addressing the status of millions of undocumented workers who are already inside the country. Others come to study in U.S. universities and are forced to return home once their studies are complete, he said.
“Let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs, or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation,” Obama said.
OBAMA FACES DIVIDED GOVERNMENT
The speech marked Obama’s second official State of the Union address, and came after his Democratic Party lost its majority in the House of Representatives and found its control of the Senate narrowed due to the 2010 midterm elections. The U.S. Constitution requires the president to periodically inform the Congress on “information of the state of the union,” and to recommend “measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient” for their consideration.
The constitutional requirement has become an annual televised address to the Congress, members of the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. military leaders, and other invited guests in which the president offers an assessment of the current condition of the United States and his vision for the nation’s future. Obama will follow up on the speech by sending Congress a proposed budget for the 2012 fiscal year in which he will offer further details on his vision by specifying his spending priorities.
Along with expected increased partisan division in the Congress, Obama’s 2011 State of the Union speech was also influenced by the January 8 shooting of Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords in a Tucson, Arizona, attack that killed six people and critically injured Giffords. Joining first lady Michelle Obama at the speech were Daniel Hernandez, a legislative intern who aided the congresswoman, as well as the parents of 9-year-old victim Christina Taylor Green, and Dr. Peter Rhee, who treated Giffords.
In a break from earlier State of the Union speeches, more than two dozen members of Congress chose to forgo the traditional segregated political party seating in the House chamber and sat together as a symbol of political civility following the Tucson shootings.
This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.