"The verdict is clear. Middle-class economics works." Possibly the most poignant words of President Obama's 2015 State of the Union address which has put tax dodging corporations clearly in the US government's crosshairs and education at the heart of a plan to improve the lives of millions of Americans.
In an hour long State of the Union speech before a joint session of the United States Congress, President Obama drew on many of the issues that have plagued the headlines in the US for the last 12 months, from police brutality to military conflict and the threat of terrorism.
But it was his demonstration of the results of ‘middle class economics’ and his desire to expand such policies that were hard to ignore.
“Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999,” said President Obama. “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.
“Since 2010, America has put more people back to work than Europe, Japan, and all advanced economies combined. Our manufacturers have added almost 800,000 new jobs. Some of our bedrock sectors, like our auto industry, are booming. But there are also millions of Americans who work in jobs that didn’t even exist ten or twenty years ago – jobs at companies like Google, and eBay, and Tesla.”
Obama used the State of the Union address to ask for bipartisan support for tax reform and economic development to stimulate growth in the middle class which, should he be able to pull it off in his remaining time in office, may just be his crowning achievement as US president.
Obama revealed that his government has plan to stimulate infrastructure investment which, despite widespread support from both parties, “too often runs onto the rocks” when deciding how to pay for the investments.
And with a statement that was followed by a resounding standing ovation, Obama said that an improved tax system with reduced loopholes would be the mechanism by which to pay for infrastructure spending and invigorate US-based business growth.
“As Americans, we don’t mind paying our fair share of taxes, as long as everybody else does, too”, he said. “But for far too long, lobbyists have rigged the tax code with loopholes that let some corporations pay nothing while others pay full freight. They’ve riddled it with giveaways the superrich don’t need, denying a break to middle class families who do.
“This year, we have an opportunity to change that. Let’s close loopholes so we stop rewarding companies that keep profits abroad, and reward those that invest in America. Let’s use those savings to rebuild our infrastructure and make it more attractive for companies to bring jobs home. Let’s simplify the system and let a small business owner file based on her actual bank statement, instead of the number of accountants she can afford.
“And let’s close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top one percent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth. We can use that money to help more families pay for childcare and send their kids to college. We need a tax code that truly helps working Americans trying to get a leg up in the new economy, and we can achieve that together.”
Subsequent to tax reform, Obama said education was a key factor in ensuring the US economy continues to flourish. He said the fact that many Americans were priced out of education is not fair to them or smart for the country’s future.
Drawing on the lessons of the past he said: “America thrived in the 20th Century because we made high school free, sent a generation of GIs to college, and trained the best workforce in the world. But in a 21st Century economy that rewards knowledge like never before, we need to do more. That’s why I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college – to zero… I want to work with this Congress, to make sure Americans already burdened with student loans can reduce their monthly payments, so that student debt doesn’t derail anyone’s dreams.”
With so many still happy to label Obama a ‘lame-duck president’, it will be interesting to see if the request for the Republicans and Democrats to work together to improve the US economy through a focus on the middle class will fall on deaf ears on Capital Hill or if bipartisan support is a real possibility in modern US politics.