Assistant City Editor
and Madison Ferril
President Obama’s state of the Union speech was met with mixed reactions Tuesday night as he laid out his goals for the next four years.
While the president spoke on a range of topics, the President’s statements on economic reform, budget issues and the gun control debate stood out. Among some of the president’s stated goals for the next four years were a $9 federal minimum wage, a $2.5 trillion budget reduction and comprehensive immigration reform. The president’s overall message was upbeat.
“Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger,” Obama said.
The president began by highlighting some of the successes of his first four years in office. Obama cited the withdrawal of overseas troops and the creation of 6 million jobs as just some of the improvements since the beginning of the financial crisis.
Among the president’s solutions to restart America’s economy is a change in how the education system works.
One of President Obama’s proposals struck at the very base of the problem — free pre-school education for all children in America.
“Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime,” he said.
In addition, the President proposes changes in high school education that will make high school graduates more prepared for college and the job market ,and changes in the funding of college education to make it easier for students to get a quality education at a reasonable price.
“I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid,” he said.
One of the most surprising of President Obama’s goals was his promise to raise the minimum wage to $9.00 per hour. That may not be the final amount, but the President affirmed his commitment to making the federal minimum wage more in-line with the idea of a living wage.
“Let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on,” Obama said.
Currently, the federal minimum wage is set at $7.25 per hour, which most states — including Texas — have set as their state minimum wage. Some — like Washington state with the highest minimum wage of $9.19 per hour — set their minimum wage higher. And a few, such as Arkansas and Mississippi, set their state minimum lower than the federal minimum or have no minimum wage at all.
According to President Obama, this increase in the minimum wage, along with incentives for businesses that employ Americans, and investments in research and green energy will help make American manufacturing competitive on the global scale.
Other economic recovery plans referred to by the President included Department of Defense partnerships with “economic hubs” to increase high-tech job opportunities, partnerships with “20 of the hardest-hit towns in America to get these communities back on their feet,” and projects aimed at improving infrastructure to make America more attractive to large employers.
In perhaps the most striking moment of the speech, President Obama began to talk about the recent string of gun violence. The president mentioned bipartisan plans for what he called “common-sense reform” including universal background checks.
The President emphasized the need for congressional discussion by telling the story of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old Illinois girl who performed at the inauguration and was shot earlier this year in the neighborhood near the Obamas’ house in Chicago. The President told Congress that it didn’t matter if they voted against it, the discussion needed to happen — especially for Pendleton’s parents because “They deserve a vote.”
“Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora 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.”
Several members of congress, including Arizona Republican Senator John McCain were shown wearing green ribbons in support of the families of the Sandy Hook Massacre.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio gave the Republican response to the State of the Union address.
In his speech, Rubio asked for smaller government, saying the tax increases and deficit proposals the president put forth will harm the middle class and will not help create jobs. He said the United States should lower its corporate tax rate to attract more overseas businesses. Rubio called for financial aid reform and incentives for schools to provide better education through more Advanced Placement and vocational programs in high schools. He said the United States must improve immigration and protect its borders. Overall, he called for more economic growth so the government could afford to help those who cannot help themselves.
“More government isn’t going to inspire new ideas, new businesses, and new private sector jobs,” Rubio said.
David Schleicher, president of the McLennan County Democrats, said that he was disappointed in the tone of Rubio’s speech.
“It seemed to create more tension than it was trying to solve,” Schleicher said. “He kept talking about feeling attacked. It was like he was still in campaign mode.”
Rubio said tax increases will not decrease the deficit and the government doesn’t have to raise taxes to avoid cuts.
“The choice isn’t just between big government and big business,” Rubio said.
Congressman Bill Flores said he doesn’t think President Obama addressed the deficit enough.
“There are better ways to reform deficit reduction,” Flores said. “In 2011, he said he wanted to freeze federal spending, but everything he proposed has some sort of spending increase associated with it.”
In reference to the president’s comments about gun control, Rubio said undermining the rights of law abiding American citizens is not the way to protect children. Flores said that he does not mind extending background checks, but that the government needs to discuss why people commit violent behavior.
“We need to focus on why people would pick up a weapon of any kind,” Flores said.