President Barack Obama’s first year in office was composed of both high and lows, and on Jan. 27, he officially kicked off the second year of his presidency with hopes of attaining greater prosperity.
Speaking to a nationally televised joint session of Congress, Obama used his first State of the Union Address to reassure the American people that he was capable of leading a country that remains nervous and uncertain about the future.
In a speech that lasted almost 70 minutes, Obama concentrated on domestic issues and laid out his agenda for the upcoming year. The topics and the tone of his speech were more moderate than his last speech to a joint session of Congress, but still remained loyal to core Democratic values.
With the country weary of his administration’s intentions and following the recent upset victory of Republican Sen. Scott Brown in the historically Democratic state of Massachusetts, Obama attempted to appeal to independents and moderates not only on Capitol Hill, but also across the nation.
His speech especially focused on creating jobs and ensuring that an economic recovery would take place. Obama said, “Jobs must be our number one focus in 2010, and that’s why I’m calling for a new jobs bill tonight.”
According to Dean Birch, a political science professor at John Carroll University, “Obama understands that with 20 percent unemployment in some sectors and 10 percent unemployment overall, jobs will be the most important thing to people.”
In order to initiate the process, Obama offered several proposals, including using the $30 billion paid back to the federal government from the Wall Street bailout to assist banks at the local level in their efforts to provide credit to struggling small businesses.
He also called upon the nation to double its exports over the span of the next five years, with the hopes of creating an additional two million jobs for Americans. Both of these proposals would complement Obama’s plan to cut taxes for the middle-class and increase tax credits for small businesses.
Obama also addressed the Republican concern of deficit spending. He vowed to install a three year freeze on discretionary domestic spending, and urged Congress to fully adopt the policy of “pay-as-you-go,” which would increase fiscal discipline in legislation passed by Congress.
The Republican response to Obama’s address was given by newly elected Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia. In November, McDonnell defeated Democratic candidate Creigh Deeds, and has been a part of the Republican resurgence over the past few months. Criticizing the White House’s course of action, McDonnell said, “The president’s partial freeze on discretionary spending is a laudable step, but a small one. The circumstances of our time demand that we reconsider and restore the proper, limited role of government at every level.”
Although there were efforts to reach across party lines, there were still moments of confrontation. For example, openly challenging Republicans and their opposition to various pieces of legislation, Obama said, “Just saying ‘no’ to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership.”
“President Obama engaged America in a conversation about what has worked, what needs improvement and how we can move forward together. Senate Democrats view the challenge of cleaning up the mess we inherited as an opportunity to set our nation back on the path to progress and prosperity,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in an official statement.
Last year’s top two domestic priorities, a greater commitment to clean energy and health care reform, did receive some attention. Despite the fact that both matters remain in political gridlock on Capitol Hill, Obama pushed Congress to pass strong bills regarding each issue.
He reminded Congress about the positive impacts of what green energy can do for a struggling economy, and when addressing the issue of health care, he encouraged Congress “not to walk away from reform.”