Obama urges Congress to make government work for "the many"

Wed Feb 13, 2013 2:13am EST
 
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By Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama challenged a divided Congress on Tuesday to raise the minimum wage and make government work for "the many" in a State of the Union speech focused on economic fairness for the middle class as the Democrat takes a more assertive tack in his second term.

Looking to use momentum from his re-election victory last November, Obama vowed to turn much of his attention toward economic troubles like the 7.9 percent unemployment rate, an issue that dogged his first four years as president.

While he offered few concessions to Republican demands for spending cuts, Obama backed higher taxes for the wealthy and a $50 billion spending plan to create jobs by rebuilding degraded roads and bridges.

It was the second time in a few weeks that Obama has used a major occasion to show a new, bolder side, coming after his inaugural speech in January when he offered a strong defense of gay rights and put climate change back on the agenda.

Obama on Tuesday outlined plans to withdraw 34,000 of the 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan over the next year and called anew for action on immigration reform at home.

In the most emotional moment of the hour-long speech, Obama urged Congress to ban assault weapons and take other gun control measures. Victims of recent shootings like the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, looked on, some choking back tears.

But the central emphasis of his speech was to "build new ladders of opportunity" for the middle class.

"It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few," Obama told hundreds of lawmakers, Cabinet officials and dignitaries gathered before him in the well of the House of Representatives.   Continued...

 
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Vice President Joe Biden (L) stand to applaud as President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 12, 2013. REUTERS/Charles Dharapak/Pool