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Little middle ground in Obama speech

 President Barack Obama walks the West Wing Colonnade towards the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010, ahead of his...
 President Barack Obama talks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010, after delivering his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill...

Obama State of the Union

President Barack Obama walks the West Wing Colonnade towards the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010, ahead of his...

Obama State of the Union

President Barack Obama talks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010, after delivering his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill...

President Barack Obama promised to put millions of Americans back to work, conceded his own mistakes and hammered Republicans and fellow Democrats for putting re-election above the needs of the country.
Obama's passionate and often feisty State of the Union speech Wednesday offered surprisingly little political middle ground and few concessions, particularly given the setbacks of his first year in office.
With key issues like health care and financial reform threatened by exploding partisanship, the president chided Democrats not to abandon principle and warned Republicans against nay-saying.
"I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills," Obama said, looking down on Democratic lawmakers packed into the House of Representatives legislative chamber.
And to minority Republicans on the other side of the aisle, the president said: "Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership."
If the minority party continued blocking his legislative agenda through procedural hurdles, he said, "then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well."
While accepting some blame for failing to sell health care reform, Obama credited his administration for quick action prevent to a "second Great Depression" like the one in the 1930s.
"One year later the worst of the storm has passed," he said, but acknowledged "the devastation remains. One in 10 Americans still cannot find work. Many businesses have shuttered. Home values have declined."
And he promised measures to put Americans back to work and said the country must buckle down once more to overcome major challenges in health care, energy and education.
"Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse," he said. "Meanwhile, China's not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany's not waiting. India's not waiting."
The State of the Union speech is traditionally one of the most closely watched events on the U.S. political calendar. Presidents lay out their priorities for the year before both chambers of Congress and a nationwide TV audience of millions.
Obama's speech was especially critical, coming one week after Republicans won a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts that had been long held by late Democrat stalwart Edward M. Kennedy.
That left Democrats one vote shy of the 60 needed in the Senate to break Republican stalling tactics known as a filibuster. The loss of the critical seat was by many as a message from voters troubled by high unemployment, the huge federal deficit and the acrimony and behind-the-scenes dealmaking in Washington politics.
Skittish Democrats now worry about their prospects ahead of the November congressional and gubernatorial elections. Democrats, especially those running for re-election in moderate or conservative states, may be more reluctant to follow the lead of Obama, whose popularity has fallen.
Obama acknowledged the problems.
"I campaigned on the promise of change, change we can believe in, the slogan went," he said. "And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren't sure if they still believe we can change or at least, that I can deliver it."
The biggest change Obama has sought has been his health care plan, aimed at extending coverage to the tens of millions Americans now lacking insurance. Democrats appeared poised to pass a sweeping overhaul but the Massachusetts setback has produced an epidemic of skittishness among conservative and centrist Democrats.
Obama urged lawmakers to take another look at his plan.
"Do not walk away from reform," he said. "Not now. Not when we are so close."
In the Republican response to the speech, Virginia's new governor, Bob McDonnell, said Democratic policies are resulting in an unsustainable level of debt. He said Americans want affordable health care, but they don't want the government to run it.
"Top-down, one-size-fits-all decision-making should not replace the personal choices of free people in a free market," McDonnell said.
In a shift from addresses by previous presidents, foreign policy took a back seat. Obama did not mention three of the toughest challenges he faced in his first year: failing to close the terrorist prison compound at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, failing to persuade Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace negotiations, and struggling with the al-Qaida havens in Pakistan that are at the core of the terrorist threat to America.
He proclaimed some success, saying that "far more" al-Qaida terrorists were killed under his watch last year in the U.S.-led global fight than in 2008.
Obama devoted about two-thirds of his speech to the economic worries foremost on Americans' minds. He emphasized his ideas for restoring job growth while taming budget deficits.
Declaring that "I know the anxieties" of Americans' struggling to pay the bills while big banks get bailouts and bonuses, Obama prodded Congress to enact a second stimulus package "without delay," urging that it contain help for small businesses and funding for infrastructure projects.
Also, fine-tuning a plan first announced in October, Obama said he will initiate a $30 billion program to provide money to community banks at low rates, if they boost lending to small businesses. The money would come from balances left in the $700 billion Wall Street rescue fund _ a program "about as popular as a root canal" that Obama made of point of saying "I hated."
But while supporting the debt-financed jobs bill, Obama said he would veto any bills that do not adhere to his demand for a three-year freeze on some domestic spending. He announced a new, though nonbinding bipartisan deficit-reduction task force.
Obama is keeping to the tradition of taking his themes on the road. He travels to Florida on Thursday to announce $8 billion in grants for high-speed rail development.

Updated : 2021-05-12 07:43 GMT+08:00