Obama Outlines Bold Initiatives, Sets Up Clash with Republicans

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

During his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama covered a wide range of issues from using government money to create jobs and grow the middle class to combating climate change. He set up a clash between his administration and a deeply divided Congress over some issues such as guns and immigration.

Economy and Jobs

In his first State of the Union since his re-election, president said the economy is still an "unfinished task."

"We have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is strong," Obama said, speaking before a joint session of Congress and a television audience of millions.

The president also called for a raise in the minimum wage to $9 an hour. Joe Nocera, New York Times columnist and WNYC contributor, says that was a surprise.

“Republican also hate, hate raising the minimum wage claiming that it is inflationary and it makes life more difficult for smaller business that can’t afford it,” he told WNYC.

The proposal, he says shows President Obama is ready to take on the 113th Congress.

WNYC’s Soterios Johnson’s full interview with Joe Nocera

Climate Change

Another potential area for clash between Republican and the president was the issue of climate change. The president said if legislators failed to act, he would. He  called for a cut in greenhouse gas emissions. Dr. Steven Cohen, executive director of Columbia University's Earth Institute, was pleased by the president's renewed focus on cap and trade.

“The regulation is there and what he was saying is I'm going to use EPA and move aggressively to put this in place and that should create some pressure for some type of cap and trade program,” he said.

Three months after Sandy, the president also told congress they could either believe that the extreme weather is a coincidence, or they could take steps to combat climate change. He said he would take action if legislators did not.

WNYC’s Soterios Johnson’s full interview with Dr. Steven Cohen


President Obama also renewed his call for an overhaul of the immigration system. He called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants and asked for a bill in the next few months, pledging to sign it "right away."

But some were hoping to hear more.

Yelky Perez is an undocumented immigrant and one of ten DREAM fellows in New York City. She says the rhetoric about undocumented immigrants in the country getting in back of the line for immigration proceedings concerned her. "There's a little bit of ambiguity about what going to the back of the line means. So I think that really came out as something negative from his speech," she said.

Perez says she wishes the president had addressed the deportations that have taken place under his administration.

WNYC’s Soterios Johnson’s full interview with Yelky Perez


Troop drawdown in Afghanistan was also part of the address. The president said over the next year 34,000 troops will leave Afghanistan. That was good news for Phoebe Gavin, an Iraq war vet and a volunteer with the non-profit. She was also pleased with some of education proposal that will benefit veterans who take advantage of the G.I. Bill, such as one that make it easier for people to evaluate colleges.

“It's particularly difficult for veterans to do that because they're often doing that under time constraints that they have no control over or they just might be overseas while they're trying to do all that research and that same benefits of going to an open house,” she said.

But she says she disappointed that the president didn't address the issue of sexual violence in the military.

WNYC’s Soterios Johnson’s full interview with Phoebe Gavin


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