Economy Tops Obama Second-term Agenda


WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama used his first State of the Union address as a second-term president Tuesday to focus on an economy that continues to struggle toward recovery and to lobby for better gun laws to stem the tide of violence that claimed two more student lives in Maryland.

“A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs—that must be the North Star that guides our efforts. 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?”

His administration released a package of job training, business incentives and education reforms designed to produce jobs, provide cleaner energy and improve the nation's rusting infrastructure.

The wealthiest 10 percent of Americans now hold nearly 75 percent of the country’s net worth, according to a July 2012 report from the Congressional Research Service, while the rest of the country’s wealth share has declined. Meanwhile the national unemployment rate stubbornly hovers around 8 percent, down from its high of 10 percent in 2009.

Maryland’s unemployment rate stands at 6.6 percent, below the national average and down from a recent high of 8 percent in October 2009.

Obama called the sequester—a series of automatic federal spending cuts—a "really bad idea" that both parties need to work together to resolve.

Obama called reducing the deficit a priority of his next term, but added that "deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan." He stressed that all the proposals he is putting forward will not increase the deficit.

Maryland's Democrat-dominated congressional delegation supported Obama's economic plans.

Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, called the speech, “terrific, very strong in its tone and its substance," and said that the president called for "bread and butter investments.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, called the speech "comprehensive," and said it clearly laid out his agenda.

In a statement, Sen. Ben Cardin said he agreed with the president and added, "Congress cannot fail the American people by making them victims of reckless inaction. Sequestration will have a devastating impact on our economy and we cannot let it happen."

A statement from Gov. Martin O'Malley praised Obama's "balanced approach" to taking on the nation's economic problems, "where eliminating government waste and cutting spending responsibly are paired with investments in core priorities like promoting innovation, improving our schools, and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.”

The state's lone Republican congressman, however, did not see the speech the same way. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville said the president failed to present specifics.

"He spent a lot of time talking about climate change and gun control and gave precious little details on how to solve our nation’s economic problems," Harris said. "I thought that the president was going to actually respond to what America wants to hear now, which is how are we going to get out of the recession, how are we going to solve our economic problems, how are we going to delay the sequester...”

Obama ended his address with a reiteration of his call for gun control, specifically calling for bans on "weapons of war" and "massive ammunition magazines" like the ones used in the December 2012 shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 28 dead, including 20 schoolchildren.

These measures deserve a vote, Obama said, "because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun."

The discussion is a timely one for Maryland, which saw two students killed in a neighborhood near the University of Maryland, College Park early Tuesday in what police are calling a murder-suicide. A semi-automatic Uzi was found at the scene, along with rounds of ammunition.

"Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I've outlined tonight," Obama said. "But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can..."

Obama announced in January 23 executive actions he plans to take to stem the tide of gun violence, including an allocation of federal research funds to study its causes.

Rep. John Delaney, D-Potomac, said, "Obviously what he did on gun safety is necessary and important. And I thought his timing on bringing that at the end of the speech was the right approach.”

Several Maryland lawmakers at the federal level have been actively working for gun control. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, is a chief co-sponsor of a bipartisan federal gun trafficking bill and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, just spoke at the March on Washington For Gun Control.

Van Hollen Tuesday was joined at the president's speech by Carole Price, whose 13 year-old-son was accidentally shot and killed by a young neighbor in 1998. Since then, Price has been a gun safety advocate in Maryland, lobbying successfully for “child-proof gun legislation” in 2002.

Maryland had another tie to Obama's State of the Union speech. High school student Jack Andraka, of Crownsville was one of 23 invited guests in First Lady Michelle Obama’s private box. Andraka won the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for creating a dip-stick sensor for cancer, and was recognized by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley in his State of the State address last month.

Capital News Service reporters Allison Goldstein, Angela Harvey, Nicole Macon and Yagana Shah contributed to this report.

Statement From Governor Martin O'malley On President Obama's State Of The Union Address

WASHINGTON—Governor Martin O’Malley issued this statement following President Obama's State of the Union Address this evening:

“The President made a persuasive case tonight for why we must begin to make better choices as a nation. Progress is a choice. Job creation is a choice. And whether we give our children a future of more or a future of less, this too is a choice.

“The better choices the President laid out will achieve better results. They're choices that prioritize the safety of our streets, schools, and places of worship. They're choices to implement forward-looking policies to address the consequences of climate disruption and bring some thoughtfulness to our immigration system. And they're choices based on the sound fiscal policy of a balanced approach, where eliminating government waste and cutting spending responsibly are paired with investments in core priorities like promoting innovation, improving our schools, and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.

“We know this balanced approach works because it’s what we’ve done in Maryland over the last six years. And, even in the toughest of times, we’ve seen the results: a stronger middle class and a stronger Maryland. Maryland is #1 in education five years in a row, #1 in holding down the cost of college, #1 in innovation and entrepreneurship, #1 in research and development, and #1 in median family income.

“It’s time for Congress to do its part and work with President Obama to make these better choices. Only with their help can we truly build a stronger middle class and stronger America.”

Cardin Response To State Of The Union

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), released the following statement in response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address. Senator Cardin is a member of the Senate Committees on Finance, Small Business, Environment and Public Works, and Foreign Relations. Expanded remarks from Senator Cardin on jobs, the economy, sequestration, federal workers and the need for bipartisanship can be downloaded here (mp4) or by following the Pathfire directions below.

“America is on the move. Our economy is growing and America’s reputation internationally is strong, but we need more jobs here at home. I agree with President Obama that we must keep moving forward on this path to recovery and create more American jobs. Congress cannot fail the American people by making them victims of reckless inaction. Sequestration will have a devastating impact on our economy and we cannot let it happen. We’ve had 35 straight months of private sector job growth for a total during that time of 6.1 million jobs. The U.S. economy has added 2.2 million private-sector jobs in the last year alone. Now is not the time to put the brakes on investments that will foster domestic job creation, including infrastructure, small businesses, research, education and job training, even as we work to bring our budget into balance. We need to set partisanship aside, listen to each other, and come together in the best spirit of compromise to bridge our differences for the sake of bringing predictability and stability to the American economy, which will foster job creation and protect middle income families.”

Hoyer Statement on President Obama's State of the Union Address

WASHINGTON—House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) released the following statement tonight after President Obama delivered his State of the Union address:

“In his State of the Union address, President Obama laid out a bold plan to invest in manufacturing and create well paying jobs. His focus on the power of our manufacturing sector to drive our recovery forward mirrors what House Democrats have been proposing for some time in our Make It In America plan – that a strong national commitment to bolstering our manufacturing sector aids the economy as a whole. He is also right that we need to invest in a strong education system, clean energy innovation, and infrastructure improvements to attract the manufacturing jobs that will sustain our growth.

“The President also made it clear tonight that Congress must act to prevent the dangerous and unacceptable sequester set to take effect on March 1, which would seriously impair our ability to invest in creating jobs, grow our middle class, and ensure the readiness of our armed forces. We must bring down deficits and replace the sequester with a big and balanced solution that does not place the burden primarily on the middle class, seniors, and the most vulnerable in our society.

“We have already seen strong leadership from this Administration in advancing thoughtful solutions to an array of challenges, from promoting efforts to keep our children safe from gun violence to taking a stand against those who would erect barriers to voting. His announcement this evening that 34,000 troops will be returning from Afghanistan within the year demonstrates his commitment to the promise he made to the American people that we will end this war by transferring responsibility for security to the Afghans and bringing our troops home at last. And by pursuing comprehensive immigration reform, the President is making clear that our country is still a beacon for all who seek a better future and want to participate in the great enterprise of our democracy.

“Only by setting aside our differences and accepting that we share a common future can we create the opportunities our people deserve and make our union as strong as we know it ought to be. I hope Republicans will work with us to achieve that goal in the weeks and months ahead.”

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