Obama vows to side-step Congress to move forward

UNITED STATES - United States President Barack Obama has vowed to circumvent a gridlocked Congress to bolster the American middle class, as he seeks to breathe new life into his troubled second – and final – term.

In his annual State of the Union speech, he made clear again and again that his “year of action” would go forward with or without the cooperation of lawmakers.

“America does not stand still – and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do,” Mr Obama said, leading observers to conclude that the executive branch has given up working with the legislative branch.

All in, he announced a dozen executive orders including a wage hike for federal contract workers.

The President’s new independent streak was the key talking point in a 11/2-hour speech that, like Singapore’s National Day Rally, is meant to lay out the agenda for the coming year.

With mid-term congressional elections in November, Mr Obama pushed for issues long on the Democratic agenda – extending unemployment benefits, raising the minimum wage and passing immigration reform. And with the spotty rollout of health-care reform starting to fade from memory, he used his trademark health-care law as a point of attack.

“I don’t expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law. But I know that the American people aren’t interested in refighting old battles,” he said.

There was only one other partisan jab – the government shutdown last October. “When our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States, then we are not doing right by the American people,” he said.

On nearly every issue though, Mr Obama drew a link to the recovering US economy – arguably the brightest spot in his agenda. He listed positive economic markers: unemployment at a five-year low; a rebounding housing market; a growing manufacturing sector with most companies looking to insource jobs, and an increase in domestic energy production.

“For the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s No. 1 place to invest; America is,” he said. All that meant that America was in a good position to have a breakthrough year, he said.

For instance, Mr Obama noted that the US has the chance to win the global race for the next wave of high-tech manufacturing jobs.

“China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines. Neither should we,” he said. “We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow. This is an edge America cannot surrender.”

As with his speech last year, foreign policy took a back seat to domestic issues. In the 10 minutes that he spoke on it, Mr Obama restated his continued focus on Asia and vowed to veto new sanctions on Iran until the nuclear deal has been given a chance to work.

In an official response aired after the speech, the highest-ranking Republican woman in the House, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, largely reiterated the party’s attack on Obamacare as an example of government overreach.

“Republicans believe health- care choices should be yours, not the government’s,” she said.

jeremyau@sph.com.sg


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