POLITICS: White House

Obama calls for tax reform, $9 minimum wage

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Photo - WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 12:  U.S. President Barack Obama waves and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) applauds after the president gave his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol February 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. Facing a divided Congress, Obama focused his speech on new initiatives designed to stimulate the U.S. economy. (Photo by Charles Dharapak-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 12: U.S. President Barack Obama waves and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) applauds after the president gave his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol February 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. Facing a divided Congress, Obama focused his speech on new initiatives designed to stimulate the U.S. economy. (Photo by Charles Dharapak-Pool/Getty Images)
Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest,Taxes,News Alert,Barack Obama,Larry Sabato

President Obama in his State of the Union address Tuesday called for an increase in the minimum wage and argued for new investments in manufacturing, education and green-energy technologies, which he said would spur the type of job creation lacking during his first term.

Obama's speech served as his highest-profile attempt to usher in a new era of progressivism, challenging Republicans in the audience to embrace spending proposals and a series of tax increases they have consistently rejected. The president also looked to build momentum for immigration reform, gun control and climate-change legislation.

The president sought to convince Americans he is committed to addressing their greatest worry, a fragile economy, while aware of their concerns about a rising tide of red ink.

"Nothing I'm proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime," Obama insisted before the collection of lawmakers assembled in the House Chamber. "It's not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth."

Obama framed his hourlong speech as a blueprint for rebuilding the middle class and lifting millions of Americans out of poverty.

He called for a rise in the minimum wage to $9 an hour from $7.25 by the end of 2015, casting it as a bipartisan idea. "Here's an idea that Gov. Romney and I actually agreed on last year: Let's tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on," he said.

The president vowed to pursue both tax and entitlement reform but was vague about how he would bridge the massive gap between Republicans and Democrats on the complicated issues.

The speech included many ideas from the 2012 campaign and his second inaugural address. Throughout much of the speech the president's delivery seemed flat, and the applause of political supporters perfunctory. That changed near the end when Obama hit an emotional high point with a plea for gun restrictions, which generated rousing cheers from the House Gallery.

"Gabby Giffords deserves a vote; the families of Newtown deserve a vote; the families of Aurora deserve a vote," Obama said in calling for universal background checks for firearm purchases and prohibitions on "weapons of war."

The speech received decidedly mixed reviews in early reactions.

"Its tone and substance extended few olive branches to the Republicans," said William Galston, a former adviser to President Clinton. "This represents a high-stakes gamble. If it leaves Republicans unmoved, he will face an unpleasant choice between negotiating with a weakened hand and accepting gridlock."

Some analysts said Obama's pleas would fall on deaf ears.

"This isn't just a laundry list -- it's a wish list," said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. "And most wishes won't come true."

Though Obama focused mostly on congressional action, he threatened to use executive actions to combat climate change if lawmakers did not unite behind a "market-based" solution to reduce carbon emissions. Environmentalists say Obama could implement tougher restrictions on existing power plants, an idea the president virtually ignored during his re-election campaign.

"We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence," Obama said, "or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science -- and act before it's too late."

Obama also repeated his calls for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, highlighting the eagerness of some GOP lawmakers to sign off on an immigration overhaul.

The president devoted less attention to foreign policy than in years past. But he announced that 34,000 U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan within a year, a drawdown of roughly half the American troops remaining there. And he warned North Korea that its third nuclear test, conducted Tuesday, would further isolate the nation from the world.

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

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