LIVE VIDEO — NBC News provides complete coverage and analysis of President Obama's State of the Union address to Congress and the Republican response from Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, starting at 9 p.m. ET on Feb. 12.
By Michael O'Brien, Political Reporter, NBC News President Barack Obama challenged Republicans on major tax and entitlement proposals in Tuesday's State of the Union address, unveiling sweeping new initiatives to boost the middle class while taking aim at GOP recalcitrance.
The president traveled to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for the annual speech, where he pressed his political opponents to allow his ambitious agenda on issues ranging from taxes and entitlements to guns and immigration to move forward. The president set the stage for a series of showdowns expected to envelop Washington in the next two years.
Those plans will have to survive the brier patch of Capitol Hill, where Republicans have strenuously opposed much of Obama’s agenda and are girding for a major springtime showdown on budgets and the swift, automatic spending cuts known as the sequester. “Let's be clear: deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan,” said Obama, who argued that his second term priorities did not represent “bigger government,” but rather, “smarter government.”
Obama spent much of the first half of his speech challenging Republicans on that central issue after two years of legislating in Washington that saw the government lurch from the brink of a shut down to the brink of a debt-limit default to the brink of automatic tax hikes.
“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,” the president said.
The assertive rhetoric from Obama was a variation upon the themes on which he successfully campaigned for re-election last fall. Furthermore, Tuesday’s speech was regarded by the White House as a coda to Obama’s second inaugural address, a liberal call-to-arms on issues ranging from government spending to gay rights and immigration reform.
Charles Dharapak / AP
President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, gestures as he gives his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill, Tuesday Feb. 12, 2013.
One issue on which Obama did not campaign -- stricter gun controls -- featured more poignantly in Tuesday's speech. Gun violence has unwittingly become a cornerstone of Obama's second term agenda following the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn. last December.
Gun control is an issue on which Obama faces stiffer Republican resistance, and the president took a much more personal tack in pressing lawmakers to take up his proposals. He turned victims of high-profile shootings in attendance at Tuesday’s speech in urging lawmakers to, at the very least, allow his gun proposals a vote.
"Gabby Giffords deserves a vote," he said, referring to the critically injured former Arizona congresswoman in the House chamber. "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."
Obama’s speech on Tuesday was delivered in the same vein; the president embraced proposals that might encounter resistance in this Congress, such as new legislation to address climate change. But, in a reflection of Obama’s newfound feistiness in a second term, the president vowed to take executive action if Congress would not act.
Obama made other proposals he said would bolster the middle class. Among Obama’s proposals were: Universal access to preschool for all four-year-olds, increasing the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour by the end of 2015, $50 billion in infrastructure spending, and partnerships