“The idea that more taxes and more government spending is the best way to help hardworking middle-class taxpayers – that’s an old idea that’s failed every time it’s been tried,” he said. “More government isn’t going to help you get ahead. It’s going to hold you back. More government isn’t going to create more opportunities. It’s going to limit them.”
Obama spoke about other issues Tuesday – including rewriting the nation’s immigration laws and combating climate change – but mostly in the context of the economy.
There were a few exceptions: Obama pressed for the most aggressive gun-control plan in generations. In the most emotional moment of the speech, he delivered an impassioned call for a vote on gun control bills by listing the “communities ripped open by gun violence” – from Aurora, Colo., to Newtown, Conn. As he spoke, cameras cut to people in the visitors galleries, some crying, some holding up photos of people presumably slain in mass shootings.
“They deserve a simple vote,” he said. The room erupted in sustained applause.
Obama announced that he will form a nonpartisan commission to study changes in the voting system after Americans endured long lines and administrative problems at the polls by singling out 102-year-old Desiline Victor, a North Miami woman who waited six hours in line to vote in November.
He said that by this time next year more than half the U.S. troops in Afghanistan – 34,000 – will have returned home as the Afghans take responsibility for security. He condemned North Korea for conducting its third nuclear test hours earlier, warning that it undermines regional stability, violates North Korea’s United Nations obligations and increases the risk of proliferation. He called for a reduction in nuclear weapons worldwide.
Obama will fly to Asheville, N.C., on Wednesday to begin selling his plans to the nation. Later in the week, he will continue the campaign-style pitch with stops in Atlanta and Chicago.
“He’s going to take his press conference out to the country,” said Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the highest-ranking Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. “The president learned from his first term, you need to have a major dialogue.”
He pressed for cuts in projected deficits by eliminating tax loopholes and deductions benefiting certain industries or the wealthy as well as by cutting projected spending.
And he urged Congress to pass a package of modest cuts and tax changes as a way to delay drastic, across-the-board federal spending reductions that are scheduled to take effect March 1.
White House officials said the president will pay for his spending proposals by re-prioritizing items in the budget. His proposed budget will be released in mid-March.
“Tonight, I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago,” he said. “Let me repeat – nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”
Obama announced that he issued executive orders, which do not require congressional approval, to open three manufacturing institutes and to improve the security of the computer networks that direct the nation’s crucial infrastructure systems – such as electricity, finance and transportation. And he threatened to sign more if Congress does not pass changes to prepare for climate change.
Kevin G. Hall and David Lightman of the Washington Bureau contributed.