Obama vows continued support for Asia-Pacific allies

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President Obama delivering his State of the Union address before the US Congress on Tuesday in Washington. AFP PHOTO

President Obama delivering his State of the Union address before the US Congress on Tuesday in Washington. AFP PHOTO

WASHINGTON, D.C.: United States (US) President Barack Obama said on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) America will continue to help the Philippines and its other allies in the Asia-Pacific in times of disaster.

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Obama mentioned the Philippines in his annual State of the Union address where he also vowed to reverse a tide of economic inequality threatening the American dream, seeking to outflank Republicans and revive a second term blighted by self-inflicted wounds and partisan warfare.

“. . . we will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific, where we support our allies, shape a future of greater security and prosperity and extend a hand to those devastated by disaster, as we did in the Philippines, when our Marines and civilians rushed to aid those battered by a typhoon, and were greeted with words like, “We will never forget your kindness” and “God bless America,” Obama said.

“We do these things because they help promote our long-term security. And we do them because we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation,” he said.

Obama promised to wield his executive powers in a “year of action” to lift up workers, improve education and clean the environment if his foes in Congress balk at more sweeping action.

“America does not stand still—and neither will I,” Obama said, talking past the lawmakers gathered in the House of Representatives directly to millions of television viewers.

“Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled and too many still aren’t working at all.

“Our job is to reverse these trends,” Obama said, pounding out his points with a punchy, optimistic delivery, apparently keen to suggest that despite five grueling years he still has energy and purpose for his task.

While focusing squarely on a domestic audience, Obama strayed into foreign policy only briefly during the one hour, 16-minute speech, as his cabinet and military brass looked on.

He vowed to support democracy in Ukraine, warned al-Qaeda’s threat had evolved and yet again urged Congress to let him close the war on terror camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But mostly Obama mined a political seam that has proven rich in the past, billing himself as the champion of middle class families fighting to overcome the worst recession since the Great Depression.

He opened on an upbeat note, saying that thanks to “five years of grit” by the American people, the US economy was finally poised for a “breakthrough.”

“The United States is better positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on earth,” Obama declared, touting the lowest unemployment rate in five years and a rebounding housing market.

Yet he argued the “defining project of our generation is to restore” the promise of equality of opportunity for all Americans.

He promised to use executive action to raise the minimum wage for federal workers on new contracts from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour, and to create a new retirement savings “starter” scheme to help millions of Americans.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid said the upper chamber will vote on the wage increase proposal in the coming weeks “and I hope Republicans will join us in turning this and other common-sense proposals into law.”

Obama called on corporate CEOs to pledge not to discriminate against long-term unemployed job seekers, and to introduce new energy-efficient fuel standards for trucks while working with cities and states to promote cleaner power.

But Obama’s vows of action is likely to reach far fewer Americans than could be helped through legislation.

While he has the power to raise the minimum wage for federal workers, a reluctant Congress would be required to extend the measure across the entire economy.

He called on lawmakers to “say Yes, give America a raise” but they appear unlikely to heed his call.

He admitted the Obamacare website needed fixing, but fiercely defended the principle of expanding coverage to almost all Americans, which Republicans have voted over 40 times to repeal.

But there are signs that Obama’s rhetoric on economic disparity is paying off as Republicans also tackled the issue in their response to Obama’s address.

In the official Republican response, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers promised Americans an agenda that “empowers you, not the government.”

“It helps working families rise above the limits of poverty and protects our most vulnerable.”

The speaker of the Republican-lead House of Representatives, John Boehner, said Obama’s address showed the president is running on empty.

“After five years, President Obama is clearly out of ideas. With few bipartisan proposals, Americans heard a president more interested in advancing ideology than in solving the problems regular folks are talking about,” Boehner said in a statement.

But with America facing challenges from Syria to the South China Sea, there are few easy victories on offer for Obama.

He defended an interim nuclear deal with Iran, which has many skeptics in Congress, as the best way to resolve a top security challenge “without the risks of war.”

Obama also reiterated his vow to veto a new sanctions bill that he fears could cause Iran to walk away from the negotiating table.

AFP

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