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Obama says he wants to help middle class

Jan. 28, 2014 at 8:17 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- U.S. President Obama says he has "concrete, practical proposals" to help the middle class, excerpts from his State of the Union address Tuesday night show.

The White House released excerpts ahead of the president's speech in which he will call for making 2014 "a year of action."

"In the coming months, let's see where else we can make progress together," he said in remarks prepared for delivery before Congress and to a nationally televised audience. "That's what most Americans want -- for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations."

Obama noted the middle class had taken hard hits even before the Great Recession, and things haven't gotten better for many despite rising corporate profits and stock prices.

"Average wages have barely budged," he said. "Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by -- let alone get ahead. And too many still aren't working at all.

"Our job is to reverse these tides. It won't happen right away, and we won't agree on everything. But what I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require congressional action, and I'm eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still -- and neither will I.

"So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do."

Earlier, an aide had said Obama believes the growing U.S. economy can now be turned into jobs and other solid benefits.

"We have not had an opportunity like we see this year when it comes to the state of our economy and the potential for it to grow and create jobs," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

For the first time since Obama's election, he said, the U.S. economy no longer faces "the enormous headwinds of the worst recession since the Great Depression or the eurozone crisis or, beginning in 2011, the ideological roadblocks that were thrown up by Republicans in Congress."

Carney cited December's federal budget agreement and the omnibus spending bill Congress worked out two weeks ago as evidence of a possible new wave of bipartisan cooperation.

"The budget deal and the omnibus passage have created an opportunity here, and we hope to seize it," he said.

Obama is expected to repeat his call from last year for comprehensive immigration reform -- a goal House Republicans say they will consider through a series of small immigration bills this summer. The Senate passed a comprehensive bill last summer.

Among the guests sitting with first lady Michelle Obama will be Cristian Avila, 23, of Phoenix, who was illegally brought to the United States with his younger brother and sister when he was 9 years old, the White House said.

Obama is expected to say Avila is fighting for comprehensive immigration reform and plans one day to join the U.S. Marine Corps.

Obama is also expected to say he will use his constitutional powers to make executive orders to address a wide range of economic challenges, including job training, education and manufacturing, Carney and other aides said.

But Republican lawmakers planned in response to warn Obama he would cripple his ability to get anything done in Congress if he follows that tack.

"He can work with us to create opportunity and prosperity. Or he can issue press releases," Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told the Washington Post. "That's the choice the president faces this year."

Obama plans to follow his address with trips Wednesday and Thursday to Prince George's County, Md., Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Nashville to tout parts of his agenda, the White House said.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released on the eve of Obama's address found 51 percent of Americans say they disapprove of Obama's job performance. Forty-three percent say they approve.

Of all the presidents since modern polling started 80 years ago, only George W. Bush had a lower approval rating before his sixth State of the Union address, the Journal said. Bush had a 54 percent disapproval rating, with 39 percent approving his performance.

With Obama, nearly six in 10 say they're uncertain, worried or pessimistic about his abilities and what he'll do with the remainder of his presidency.

At the same time, most people generally support many themes and policy ideas he is expected to call attention to in his State of the Union address.

Besides Avila, civic leaders, community activists and ordinary citizens are among first lady Michelle Obama's guests Tuesday when President Obama delivers his State of the Union at the U.S. Congress, the White House said, including:

-- Aliana Arzola-Pinero, San Juan, Puerto Rico, a 2013 Kids State Dinner attendee.

-- Mary Barra, Detroit, the chief executive officer of General Motors Co. Barra also is a member of the GM board of directors and the first female CEO in the company's history.

-- Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who extended access to affordable healthcare coverage to Kentuckians by expanding Medicaid and set up a new health insurance marketplace, "Kynect."

-- Tyrone Davis, Winston-Salem, N.C., a fellow with the Environmental Defense Fund's Climate Corps.

-- Vice Adm. Michelle Howard, Washington, the deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy, the first female four-star admiral in the history of the U.S. Navy, and the first African-American female to achieve four-star rank in the history of the military.

-- Sabrina Simone Jenkins, Charleston, S.C.: Served in the Air Force, then took classes at DeVry University while working full time, graduating with a 3.7 GPA at the age of 42, while caring for ailing family members and becoming seriously ill herself. She also earned a master's degree in human resources and has nearly $90,000 in student loan debt.

-- San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, the son of Chinese immigrants and the first Asian-American mayor of San Francisco.

-- Andra Rush, Detroit, an American Indian and founder and chairwoman of The Rush Group, Detroit Manufacturing Systems.

-- Amanda Shelley, Gilbert, Ariz., a physician assistant with a pre-existing condition who found affordable health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

-- Antoinette Tuff, Atlanta, the DeKalb County bookkeeper who prevented a shooting at a suburban Atlanta elementary school.

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