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State of the Union: Obama Calls Investment in Innovation 'Our Sputnik Moment'

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President Obama outlined an ambitious plan Tuesday to "win the future," urging renewed investment in American technology, infrastructure and education, while simultaneously calling for a more streamlined federal government and a reduction of the deficit.

In his State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress -- some of whose members crossed the aisle in a symbolic show of bipartisanship -- Obama emphasized a common purpose and a shared future. "We will move forward together, or not at all," he said, "for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics."

Early in his address, Obama called attention to the empty seat that would have been occupied by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was severely wounded during the Tucson shootings on Jan. 8.

"Amid all the noise and passions and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater -- something more consequential than party or political preference," he said. "We are part of the American family."

And indeed, with many Democratic and Republican lawmakers seated next to each other, Obama received several bipartisan rounds of applause and standing ovations throughout his speech.

The tenor of the address was optimistic: The president highlighted the progress the country had made since the begining of the economic downturn and reiterated his fundamental belief that America's best days are yet to come. "We are poised for progress," he said. "Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again."

Though the speech was short on specific policy proposals, Obama outlined areas where he would seek legislation in the coming year -- and which would act as core "pillars" in his upcoming fiscal year 2012 budget, which is to be released the week of February 14.

Speaking to innovation, the president called for 80 percent of America's electricity to come from clean energy sources by 2035. In a bid to move the country away from dependence on fossil fuels, he recommended an end to the nearly $4 billion in tax subsidies to oil and gas industries, and to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

In the area of education, the president voiced his support for reform measures, including the "Race to the Top" program, which he called "the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation." He called on Congress to make permanent the American Opportunity Tax Credit -- which gives families up to $10,000 in credits toward four-year college tuition. (The credit was recently extended during last year's lame-duck session of Congress).

Obama also pitched the need for comprehensive immigration reform and urged lawmakers to "stop expelling talented, responsible young people who can staff our research labs, start new businesses, and further enrich this nation."

The president touted investment in American infrastructure -- including high-speed rail, transit systems and a national wireless inititative -- as critical to ensuring the country remains competitive on a global stage. Citing advancements made by Chinese, Korean, European and Russian governments, Obama said, "We have to do better. America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, and constructed the interstate highway system."

"Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we'd beat them to the moon," he said, calling for job-creating investments in biomedical research, information technology, and clean energy technology. "The science wasn't there yet. NASA didn't even exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn't just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.

"This is our generation's Sputnik moment."

Speaking to the concepts of reform and responsibility, Obama tackled perhaps the most contentious legislative subjects, including tax reform and the federal deficit. The president said Congress should close loopholes in the corporate tax code and use the savings to reduce the corporate tax rate -- the first such reduction in 25 years.

He pledged to streamline government -- vowing to revisit unnecessary regulations on private enterprise -- but defended the new health care reform law, saying, "Instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let's fix what needs fixing and move forward."

In a bid to rein in government spending -- a core Republican priority in this year's session of Congress -- Obama called for a five-year freeze on non-security discretionary spending, which he said would lower the federal deficit by $400 billion over the next 10 years. He also voiced support for a plan put foward by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to cut $78 billion from the defense budget.

And Obama seemed to open the door to entitlement reform, including Social Security and Medicare, but remained opaque as to how far he would push any overhaul. "We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities," he said. "Without slashing benefits for future generations, and without subjecting Americans' guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market."

And to last year's hotly debated Bush tax cuts -- which Obama reluctantly extended as part of a broader tax cut package in December -- the president urged Congress to let the cuts expire for the wealthiest 2 percent of American earners, saying the country could no longer afford such breaks.

Pledging a more transparent and streamlined government, Obama vowed to veto any bill that came to his desk with earmarks, saying, "The American people deserve to know that special interests aren't larding up legislation with pet projects."

Obama focused the bulk of his address on domestic concerns but also cited progress in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Honoring those in the military, he celebrated the repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy barring gays from openly serving in the U.S. armed forces, and further called on colleges to allow military recruiters and the ROTC onto their campuses.

He spoke to nuclear containment, touting the recently passed New START arms control treaty with Russia and multilateral sanctions against Iran and North Korea. And he announced that his next international trip would be to the Americas -- visiting Brazil, Chile and El Salvador.

In large part, many of the policy specifics Obama cited were ones he has been discussing since he was elected. But the spirit of the moment -- as the country sought to heal itself in the wake of the Giffords tragedy and Congress convened in a spirit of cooperation -- lent renewed urgency to his vision of a more perfect union.

"We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled." And as he finished, he said, quite simply, "We do big things. The idea of America endures. Our destiny remains our choice."

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Rob & Kathy

aethon00712:10 PM Jan 28, 2011
"Including myself, every judge who's been appointed to the court since Lewis Powell in 1971 has been more conservative than his or her predecessor, except maybe Justice Ginsburg." - Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
********************
Justices Sotomayor and Kagen are conservatives?

January 31 2011 at 12:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Rob & Kathy's comment
aethon007

Rob and Kathy:
1. This was a quote by Supreme Court Justice Stevens.
2. Stevens said this in 2007.
3. His assertion was that every judge appointed since 1971 "has been more conservative than his or her predecessor". We're not talking about what people label themselves, mind you. We are speaking (in 2007) of the relative levels of conservatism vs. liberalism. The US is shifting decidedly (and unprecedentedly)conservative. The country would never today stand for Pres Eisenhower, for example, as he would be considered way in left field. Although a Republican, what he stood for during his time was considered quite moderate.

January 31 2011 at 3:51 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
aethon007

Based on the majority of the comments I've seen on this article, I am reminded why it is good we are not a direct, but rather a representative democracy. There are some very basic macro-economic principles that are simply not recognized by the majority, and that is very dangerous for America. You cannot address deficit, without first addressing unemployment. When you cut spending, you increase unemployment. If you address unemployment, you will have to spend. Deficits are quickly balanced with a robust economy. Government creates resources and demand (thus employment) all the time, both in war and peace. Eisenhower created employment with infrastructure stimulus and currently the Pentagon is the nation's single largest employer. It is a shame that we have to see politicians echoing the bogus principles of their voting constituency, as re-election insurance, knowing full well the severe damage such policies would cause to the American economy. Good thing, in the end (for the most part) both parties legislate the same. Check raw data for the truth.

January 31 2011 at 10:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to aethon007's comment
aethon007

Sorry folks (who won't engage in discussion, but rather simply "not like" my statements), but you CANNOT resolve unemployment problems in ANY nation while making massive government cuts. Never in human history has this ever worked. Can't change the data. It is what it is.

January 31 2011 at 3:53 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Rob & Kathy

It illustrates just how far we have fallen. From moon walks 40 years ago to, "sputnik moments"...

January 30 2011 at 12:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
aethon007

"Including myself, every judge who's been appointed to the court since Lewis Powell in 1971 has been more conservative than his or her predecessor, except maybe Justice Ginsburg." - Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. FYI for all you GOP, we are now moving into un-chartered territory. This country has never before held modern conservative positions. Be careful where your populism takes this country.

January 28 2011 at 12:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sdenicker

It seems that our president, along with our elected officials, with all the spending legislation they have enacted, now seem to want to blame us for this financial disaster by implying that we need to fix it by improving our children's education (getting a college degree) so they can compete in the global job market. It's as if he was telling us their jobs are gone for good. We all have to own up to our shortcomings. But the government just can't wait to blame someone other them themselves for our current situation. They are the main culprits of our financial problems. They are guilty on both sides of the aisle. Let's not give them a pass anymore. Last night was more of the same old rhetoric. His promises were all repeated many times. The last two years Let the voters fix this mess. Show the Obama administration that he has woken up the sleeping giant. We will remember your what you said and hold you accountable!

January 27 2011 at 4:37 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to sdenicker's comment
aethon007

Your argument is circular, if you are blaming the government for being too loose with corporate financial regulations (which is without contradiction the root cause to the collapse - not government stimulus nor bailouts - which I don't believe anyone is saying) - then you blame the government because they failed to control the private sector (ie financial lobbyists who pressured regulators to ease enforcement and legislation, which allowed them to disguise mortgages as securities and sell them on the open market -- we didn't forget about that did we?)? If we are holding him accountable, what is it we hold him accountable for? Please advise so I don't hold him accountable for the wrong thing. Now, we should be angry that the government wants to better educate its citizens??? Right. What good could come of that....

January 27 2011 at 10:43 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
mrscaptndavid

My parents grew up during the depression. My grandparents survived the depression. My fathers family had a mercantile store and FDR's policies with price controls were a real problem. According to my parents and grandparents, FDR's policies probably made the depression last longer by ten years than it should have. The numerous government agencies and regulations put a stranglehold on businesses and made it very difficult to make a living. FDR much like this president blamed everything on his predecessor. It is ironic that since this president seems to be modeling himself after FDR that this economic downturn has done nothing but stagnate even after pumping massive amounts of money into the economy and putting us in massive debt. The spend your way out of a recession and massive ever expanding government seems to only acerbate the problem. History repeating itself?

January 27 2011 at 8:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to mrscaptndavid's comment
aethon007

According to economists, and all corresponding data (like unemployment figures, GDP growth, and deficit numbers), the New Deal got the US out of the Depression. Depressions are defined by unemployment. Unemployment was at 25% when FDR took office and by 1936, it was at 16%. New Deal was not the problem. It was additional legislation introduced in 1936 which stifled competition (very similar to current root causes) and thus, recession bloomed by 1937. History IS repeating itself. But if you know it well, you will recognize were are still in the 1920s, following Mellon's tax cuts and walk away from it approach. Deficit wasn't a concern for the US until the 1940s, when we were well out of the recession.

January 27 2011 at 11:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
fox4flyr

The economy is stagnant?...where do you get your information?...cutting expenses to get out of a recession has NEVER worked...controlling spending with fat-cutting is the answer...if you're a conservative you should be ashamed...you people started 30 years ago with your de-regulation...no oversight meant the gravy train was on it's way...now the train has jumped the tracks and you want to stay in power?...so you can finish emptying the piggy bank?...shame on all of you!...now that you're in charge of the House let's see if you can clean up your messes...and while we're at it....

HEY BONER!...WHERE ARE THE JOBS???...put your cocktail down and answer the people's question!!...we're waiting, sunshine!!!

February 01 2011 at 12:55 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
okitori

I had to laugh when I heard Prez Obama say once again--"I will not sign a bill that has any earmarks attached." ? WHAT--didn't I hear this 2 or 3 yrs ago? and where was the veto? or how about "no lobbyists in my administration." Many people don't seem to take him to task or to care. It appears to me that most just sit back and although the next shoe is ready to drop--they rely on socialism and hope that they will be taken care of. This government's agenda is to take over your very soul so that they can dictate what you eat, where you live, take the bus or train to work, decide on what temp you can usse for heat, raise gas prices so you cannot afford a car, you know--share the wealth.

January 27 2011 at 3:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
citizenoftheland

manpower Inc is predicting a labor shortage in my area

January 26 2011 at 10:26 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
citizenoftheland

Excellent speech last night by Obama ,he laid out a clear eyed vision for America . I liked that he went square into the center yet brought along many of the left's dearest programs with him . If the left was feeling abandoned by him I think they can take humbrage from what they saw last night .It was a masterful job by Obama !

January 26 2011 at 10:25 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to citizenoftheland's comment
oldengineera2

I think the message of Sputnik has whizzed over the President's head...

January 30 2011 at 5:16 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jeepgram97

The up sweep in the economy comes from the hiring and buying for Christmas....what will happen in three or four months when these 'buy on credit' comes due....when these folks are laid off.....and if you haven't noticed the layoffs and business closings have already started.

January 26 2011 at 7:43 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to jeepgram97's comment

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