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Obama Takes Congress to Task in SOTU Address

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
President Barack Obama greets Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Tuesday at her last State of the Union address before she resigns this week.

“The state of our union is getting stronger. And we’ve come too far to turn back now,” he said.

Obama’s new proposals included new tax breaks for insourcing and manufacturing, more offshore oil leases, enforcement of trade rules, and enhancements to education and job training.

Obama also spotlighted a fleshed-out “Buffett rule” that would set a minimum tax rate of 30 percent for millionaires — a policy that would double GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s tax bill.

While whacking the rich, Obama pushed for Congress to make it easier for homeowners who are keeping up with their mortgage payments to refinance, punish colleges for tuition hikes and prevent a tax increase for the middle class.

The speech also had its warmer moments — from the standing ovation that welcomed Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) for her last appearance on the floor before her resignation to the boisterous applause that marked the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Obama and Giffords exchanged a warm embrace and several words before he took the podium to deliver what likely was the most important speech of his presidency to date. Giffords’ husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, watched from the gallery with first lady Michelle Obama, as the recovering Congresswoman — shot in the head just over a year ago — rose to cheer the president on immigration, education and innovation policies. She gently pumped her left fist, watching Obama deliver his speech from the first row of the House chamber and flanked by two Arizona colleagues, Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva and Republican Rep. Jeff Flake.

The address was marked by moments that have become typical of Obama’s speeches, with House Republicans barely leaving their seats except for a rare line that aligned with their interests. The House GOP leadership team, for example, rose to loud cheers at Obama’s assertion that the nation has “a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years and ... will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.”

Earlier in Obama’s address, when the president vowed to fight “any effort to return” to the policies that allowed for financial crisis, a female voice could be heard from the floor yelling “Keystone pipeline!” over the cheers of Democrats and silence from Republicans. The administration rejected the authorization of the oil pipeline project earlier this month.

With a focus on manufacturing, Obama put some heartland Republicans on the spot. When he talked about a revived domestic auto industry and the federal bailout that boosted it, many Republicans did not stand. But Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), up for re-election in 2012 and from a state with serious economic ties to the industry, rose to cheer, nearly alone in his block of seats.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, meanwhile, delivered the Republican response, ripping the president for having a “pro-poverty policy” that stifles energy projects like the Keystone XL pipeline. And he said House Republicans should be given credit for taking on the nation’s challenges.

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