Obama's agenda to reignite middle class; Republicans cool

Washington, Feb 13 (IANS) Energised by his election victory, a confident President Barack Obama laid out an ambitious agenda from reigniting the growth of middle class to fixing immigration to curbing gun violence, only to get a cold Republican response.

"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."

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."

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.

"Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants," he said Tuesday taking up the contentious issue of how to deal with America's 11.5 million undocumented immigrants, including some 250,000 Indians "And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy," he said promising to sign a bipartisan reform bill "right away."

In support of "common sense" gun law reforms, Obama cited several incidents of gun violence from the massacre of 20 innocent schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut to the shooting of six worshippers at a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

"The families of Newtown deserve a vote... The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence - they deserve a simple vote," Obama said.

But the Republicans responded coolly to Obama's proposals with Senator Marco Rubio of Florida repeating longstanding Republican criticism of what he described as job-killing, growth-snuffing bigger government.

"Presidents in both parties-from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan-have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle-class prosperity," said Rubio, considered the a rising star in the Republican Party.

"But President Obama? He believes it's the cause of our problems," he said suggested that Obama's solution "to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more."

However, the only Indian-American member of the US Congress, Ami Bera has welcomed President Barack Obama's plan "to restore an economy that works for middle class families by investing in infrastructure, innovation, and education."

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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