President Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before a joint session… (Mark Wilson / Getty Images )
By Neela Banerjee
WASHINGTON -- In his State of the Union address, President Obama articulated a subtle but noticeable shift away from his longstanding discussion of climate change in almost entirely economic terms to making a moral argument for the need to act.
“For the sake of our children and our future,” he said, “we must do more to combat climate change.”
“Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend,” Obama said. “But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods -- all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science -- and act before it’s too late.”
His new, blunter language on climate change builds on rhetoric he used during the Democratic National Convention, in his election night victory speech and his Inaugural address three weeks ago. Obama did not follow up his mention of climate change by unveiling any new major initiatives. But he told legislators that with or without them he would act on it.
“I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago,” Obama said, speaking of the Senate veterans. “But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”
The president has public opinion on his side, with polls late last year showing that a majority of Americans now consider climate change a serious problem. He also has initiatives at the ready that were being crafted toward the end of his first term, most notably rules to curtail greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants.
Environmentalists praised Obama’s new approach, but key decisions ahead are likely to test his commitment. Environmentalists hope to see the administration reject the building of the Keystone XL pipeline, which they say would amp up greenhouse gases. They also expect the Environmental Protection Agency to push new rules to cut emissions of greenhouse gases from existing power plants.
“He was strong on problems but weak on solutions after saying climate change was a moral crisis and an economic opportunity,” said Michael Brune, president of the Sierra Club. “He didn’t give us much to chew on as far as meeting the challenge.”
By Jim Puzzanghera
WASHINGTON -- President Obama focused his State of the Union address on boosting the nation’s slow-moving economic recovery, saying the first priority “is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing.”
Obama unveiled some new initiatives, such as raising the minimum wage, opening new government-backed Manufacturing Innovation Institutes, and a program to fix crumbling infrastructure.
He also pushed lawmakers to approve proposals that stalled in Congress last year, including making it easier for some homeowners to refinance their mortgages, eliminating some corporate tax breaks, and enacting the so-called Buffett Rule to ensure that millionaires pay a minimum income tax rate.
“Now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit,” Obama said. "The American people deserve a tax code that helps small businesses spend less time filling out complicated forms and more time expanding and hiring.”
The most significant new proposal was to raise the national minimum wage in stages to $9 an hour by 2015 from $7.25, and to tie the rate to inflation.
“This single step would raise the income of millions of working families,” Obama said. “For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets.”
Obama also proposed a $50-billion program called “Fix-It-First” that would hire people to repair nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges nationwide and other infrastructure.
In addition, the president said he would use existing money to open three new Manufacturing Innovation Institutes after the success of the first such facility, in Youngstown, Ohio, where an unused warehouse has been converted into a state-of-the art 3D printing lab. Obama called for Congress to authorize $1 billion to create a network of 15 such institutes.
By Melanie Mason