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Obama offers help to the middle class

January 25, 2010|By Michael Muskal | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

President Obama today gave the nation a preview of his State of the Union address by outlining new policies to help the middle class cope with lower expectations and loss of faith in achieving the American dream.

In televised remarks aimed at his task force that studied middle-class issues, Obama said his administration was committed to creating more jobs, increasing incomes and helping the battered middle class to grow. The task force is chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, who introduced the president.

"Hopefully, some of these steps will reestablish some of the security that has slipped away in recent years," Obama said, "because in the end, that's how Joe and I measure progress.

"Not by how the markets are doing but by how the American people are doing. It's about whether they see some progress in their own lives," Obama said.

The administration's plan is designed to ease some of the pressure on people caught between an aging generation of parents and the new generation of youngsters trying to get established, Biden said. All three groups face special difficulties in these tough economic times.

Specifically, the administration wants to double the child-care tax credit for families earning less than $85,000 a year. It wants a $1.6-billion increase in federal funding for child-care programs and to place a cap on student-loan payments so those who pay for college can come out of debt sooner and more easily.

Other proposals would offer incentives to help increase retirement savings and require employers to provide workplace savings plans. Tax credits also would be offered to help families care for the elderly.

Interestingly, Obama made only a glancing mention of healthcare reform, noting that there was a need to prevent insurance companies from abusing consumers through, for example, refusing to pay for previous conditions.

This was a far cry from past statements on a more ambitious healthcare overhaul but a nod to the new political realities in the wake of the Senate-seat upset in Massachusetts that cost Democrats their 60-vote super majority.

In his comments, Obama repeatedly used the words "fight" and "fighting," continuing the usage that accelerated last week in his criticism of banks and during a town-hall-style session in Ohio.

"But above all, we're going to keep fighting to renew the American dream and keep it alive not just in our time, but for all time," Obama said.

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