Looking to use momentum from his re-election victory last November, Obama vowed to turn much of his attention toward economic troubles like the 7.9% unemployment rate, an issue that dogged his first four years as president.
While he offered few concessions to Republican demands for spending cuts, Obama backed higher taxes for the wealthy and a $50 billion spending plan to create jobs by rebuilding degraded roads and bridges.
Obama outlined plans to withdraw 34,000 of the 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan over the next year and called anew for action on immigration reform at home.
In the most emotional moment of the hour-long speech, Obama urged Congress to ban assault weapons and take other gun control measures. Victims of recent shootings like the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, looked on, some choking back tears. However, the central emphasis of his speech was to “build new ladders of opportunity” for the middle class.
“It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few,” Obama told hundreds of lawmakers, Cabinet officials and dignitaries gathered before him in the well of the House of Representatives.
His address to a joint session of Congress came in the midst of yet another bitter battle with Republicans over taxes and spending, and this tussle cast a heavy shadow over his appearance.
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