26 Jan 2012

President delivers state of the union address

6:10 am on 26 January 2012

US President Barack Obama attacked income inequality in his annual state of the union address and urged Congress to adopt fairer rules on the creation of wealth in the United States.

"We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules," he said in his address, which was televised.

"What's at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them."

The BBC points out that the president's speech in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives was delivered with an eye on November's presidential election, when he will seek another four years in office.

The president's proposed tax changes include a minimum 30% effective rate on millionaires to eliminate inequalities that allow the wealthy to pay lower rates than the middle class.

This is called the Buffett Rule, after millionaire Warren Buffett who publicly asked why his secretary was on a higher tax rate than he was.

Mr Buffett's secretary watched the state of the union speech alongside First Lady Michelle Obama.

The president also announced plans to make it easier for Americans to refinance their mortgage and to create a new "Trade Enforcement Unit" that will investigate unfair global trading practice.

He says he will also clear away red tape that has been delaying badly-needed infrastructure projects in the United States and introduce tax reforms to make it less attractive for US companies to transfer jobs overseas.

He sounded a warning to his conservative opponents, as he added: "I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place."

Republican Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels delivered the Republican Party response to the address, calling the president's approach "divisive".

However, the BBC says Mr Obama avoided placing the US's current woes at the feet of his predecessor and was probably less hostile to his republican opponents than some had expected.

Before he delivered his speech, the president hugged Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman who survived a shooting in Arizona last year but has decided to resign her seat to concentrate on her recovery.