Washington, Feb 13 (IANS) Energised by his election victory, a confident President Barack Obama has laid out an ambitious agenda for his second term, from reigniting the growth of middle class to fixing immigration to curbing gun violence.
"It is our generation's task, then, to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth - a rising, thriving middle class," he said Tuesday night in the first State of the Union speech of his second term.
Focusing again on his middle class political base as he did during the November election campaign, Obama nudged a divided Congress, with the House controlled by the opposition Republicans and the Senate by his Democrats, to work together.
"Now let's get this done," he said.
"It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country -- the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love," Obama said.
Defending the role of government in making lives better, the president stressed that he does not plan to increase the deficit and that he is not for "bigger government" but "smarter government."
"It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation of ours," Obama said.
Taking up themes from his re-election campaign last year, Obama put an emphasis on economic growth and job creation, adding that "nothing I'm proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime."
"It's not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth," he said.
Giving his fourth State of the Union address to a joint session of the Congress presided over by Vice President Joes Biden and Speaker John Boehner, Obama also continued his push for Congress to act on politically volatile issues such as immigration reform and gun violence.
"Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned."
"The families of Newtown deserve a vote," he said. "The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities - they deserve a simple vote."
Outlining plans for reducing the deficit, increasing the minimum wage, and repairing roads and bridges, he proposed key Medicare reforms to bring about substantial health care savings by the beginning of the next decade.
He also criticised the Congress for the recent debt ceiling and fiscal cliff showdowns. "The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next.
"Let's agree, right here, right now, to keep the people's government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America."
In a major foreign policy announcement, Obama said that this time next year, another 34,000 US troops will have returned home from Afghanistan. The move will reduce by more than half the current force level of 66,000 troops in Afghanistan.
By the end of 2014, the planned official end of the combat mission, the White House is considering a range of troop levels for Afghanistan, from as many as 15,000 down to zero.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)