Delivering his annual address to Congress for the fifth time in his presidency, President Obama in his State of the Union tonight made a sweeping pitch for an economic blueprint he says reflects "smarter," not "bigger" government, and laid out a series of proposals he promises will help deliver to the American people "a growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs" without increasing the deficit "by a single dime."
The President, in his fourth official State of the Union, outlined a broad swath of goals for the future of his tenure, touching on everything from the war in Afghanistan, to cyber-security, to his commitment to reducing gun violence in America.
But the primary focus of his remarks revolved around a blueprint for economic growth, guided, Mr. Obama said, by principles that place paramount importance of re-igniting what he called "the true engine of America's economic growth: a rising, thriving middle-class."
"A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs - that must be the North Star that guides our efforts," Mr. Obama said. "Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?"
In his four-pronged strategy for achieving that goal, Mr. Obama stressed the need to attract more jobs to the U.S.; equip Americans with the skills they need to participate in a competitive global economy; raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour; and cut the deficit in a "balanced" way. He also called for $1 billion for new manufacturing research, $50 billion for "fix it first" road repair funds, and a new trade deal with the European Union.
The president particularly stressed the need for affordable, accessible education for students of all ages -- from toddlers to college students -- calling for universal pre-school for four-year-olds, as well as tweaks to standards for determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid.
"Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on - by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime," he said. "Let's also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job."
Mr. Obama promised his proposals would be revenue-neutral.
"Nothing I'm proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime," Mr. Obama pledged. "It's not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth."
The president underscored, as he has many times, a commitment to reducing the national deficit while also avoiding a series of across-the-board "sequester" cuts slated to go into effect March 1. But he argued that as important as it is to avert the sequester cuts, they can't be prevented by "making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits," as he noted "some in this Congress have proposed."
"Yes, the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population," the president said. "But we can't ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful... Most Americans - Democrats, Republicans, and independents - understand that we can't just cut our way to prosperity."
The president said he is prepared to enact a series of limited cost-cutting reforms for Medicare, including measures that would reduce taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies, and ask more from wealthy seniors.
But for the remaining deficit reduction savings, he reiterated his call for comprehensive tax reform, urging Congress to support the closing of tax loopholes and deductions "for the well-off and connected."
"After all, why would we choose to make deeper cuts to education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks? How is that fair? How does that promote growth?" he asked. "Now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit."
Oklahoma's two freshmen Congressmen, Jim Bridenstine and Markwayne Mullin, both attended their first State of the Union address.
Mullin said Tuesday night, he was impressed by the President's eloquence, but not by his strategy for the future.
"He gives great speeches, we understand that. But to be a leader, you have to take big decisions and make 'em reality, and we haven't seen that out of this administration, not one single time," Mullin said.
Senator Jim Inhofe piled on with, "If Washington is serious about job creation and a strong middle class, the President should look to my home state of Oklahoma.
"It's because of our thriving energy sector, an industry the President is attempting to kill with his liberal climate change agenda and his relentless war on fossil fuels."