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Obama wants to 'turn the page' for America's middle class

By Danielle Haynes
1/17
Obama wants to 'turn the page' for America's middle class
Vice President and President of the Senate Joe Biden (L) and Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner sit behind U.S. President Barack Obama as he delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of congress and the American people in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama vowed to help the middle class. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Jan. 20 (UPI) -- After a "breakthrough year for America," President Barack Obama stressed the importance of protecting middle-class working families in Tuesday's State of the Union address.

In his annual speech, Obama touted some of the nation's economic improvements since a "vicious recession spread across our nation."

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"Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999," he said. "Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we've been in almost 30 years."

"Middle-class economics works," Obama said, but said politics shouldn't get in the way to restrict these policies.

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"We can't slow down businesses or put our economy at risk with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns. We can't put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we've got a system to fix. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto."

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Expanding on a proposal for free community college he first suggested earlier this month, Obama said Americans should receive help affording college.

In addition, he said working families should receive help with affordable child care, healthcare, a home and retirement, he added.

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The budget he proposes later this year "will address each of these issues, lowering the taxes of working families and putting thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year."

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Obama also urged Congress to pass laws to raise both the minimum wage and the wages of women.

"This Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work," he said. "Really. It's 2015. It's time. We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they've earned. 

"And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this:  If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise."

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LGBT issues

Obama garnered lots of social media reaction from Congress with comments he made in support of same-sex marriage and other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues toward the end of his speech.

In remarks focusing on how he's seen Americans overcome adversity, Obama mentioned the hot-button topic of same-sex marriage, which will be considered by the Supreme Court this year.

"I still believe that we are one people. I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long," he said. "I've seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country, a civil right now legal in states that seven in 10 Americans call home."

He also called for a defense of human rights and freedom of speech.

"As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we're threatened, which is why I've prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained," Obama said. "It's why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world. It's why we continue to reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims – the vast majority of whom share our commitment to peace.

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"That's why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. We do these things not only because they're right, but because they make us safer."

CNN reported it was the first time a U.S. president had ever spoken the words, "lesbian," "bisexual" and "transgender" during the State of the Union.

Moments we laughed during the State of the Union

Obama's speech wasn't all business Tuesday night.

Twice, the president made comments that unexpectedly and amusingly got some applause.

Obama's introduction of his example of the typical middle-class family wasn't supposed to be a funny moment.

"Seven years ago, Rebekah and Ben Erler of Minneapolis were newlyweds," he said, garnering a smattering of applause.

Rebekah, who was invited to sit next to first lady Michelle Obama, appeared sheepish as a few members of the audience clapped for the mere fact that she was a newlywed.

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Later in his speech, drew even bigger laughs and kicked in a joke of his own when commenting on his lack of an agenda.

"I have no more campaigns to run," he said to what may have been the first time many members of the Republican party clapped during the speech.

"I know because I won both of them," Obama quipped of his campaigns.

This is the first year the White House has made the president's State of the Union address available in full to the public. The speech was posted in its entirety online, complete with related statistics and charts for the public to view as Obama spoke on different topics.

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