President Barack Obama on Tuesday urged Congress to prevent looming cuts to military and domestic programs scheduled to take place on March 1.
Obama called the cuts—known in Washington as the sequester—a “really bad idea” that would imperil the nation’s shaky economic recovery, but said trimming popular social programs like Medicare would be worse and would disproportionately hurt the middle class.
In his first State of the Union address since being reelected last November, Obama also made an emotional plea for new gun safety measures, saying the victims of gun violence—like the residents of Newtown, Conn., where 26 people died in a mass shooting in December—“deserve a vote” on legislation to ban assault weapons and large ammunition magazines.
“What I’ve said tonight matters little if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource, our children,” Obama said.
Obama spoke on Capitol Hill before a a bitterly divided Congress, pitching legislative proposals that have no chance of enactment without some support from the Republicans who control the House and wage filibusters in the Senate. He gave a nod to the concerns of the GOP, vowing that none of his policy proposals would deepen the deficit.
“It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad based growth,” Obama said.
Still, the speech largely reflected the priorities of a Democratic president returned to office by a convincing margin and who will not face re-election again.
Obama vowed a broad commitment to economic development and job creation, particularly in manufacturing and clean energy. After an inaugural address last month noteworthy for broad themes over substance and for its nod to issues like gay marriage, Obama used Tuesday night’s speech to return to the economy, which polls show remain the top concern for most Americans.
“A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs—that must be the North Star that guides our efforts,” Obama said. “Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?”