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Obama Addresses “Middle-Class Economics” in SOTU

Sometimes social media can create a disconnect between the masses and the people that run the country. On Jan. 20 President Barack Obama discussed issues in the State of the Union, and these are some of the points broken down.

SOTU pic 1

President Barack Obama addressed the nation from Congress on Jan. 20, highlighting policies he plans to enact in the remainder of his presidency.

One of the concepts Obama kept pushing was a new plan to expand what he calls “middle-class economics.” This term is a way to summarize a budget plan that discusses a lot of tax breaks and federal support for families under a certain tax bracket. Some of the explicit programs the president discussed included education reform, tax cuts on family income, tax breaks for childcare expenses and increases in the minimum wage.

“It is a set of policies to enhance the well-being, in [Obama’s] view, for those not at the very top,” said Robert Kerstein, professor of Government and World Affairs at UT. “But among those who would benefit are relatively high up in the economic ladder and would be a wide spectrum who might benefit depending on what program you are looking at.” 

Some of the controversy surrounding this plan is the fact that it will lead to a redistribution of wealth from those at the very top economically to those on the lower end  of the spectrum. A new program he proposed would provide students with two free years of community college. The average amount of federal student aid was $4,600 with 43.6 percent receiving some form of federal aid, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. There is no information on how much more spending this plan would require.

Along with the tax breaks and federal support for those who are struggling comes tax hikes for those who are more wealthy. Theoretically, these increases would help fund some of the projects that would require the extra spending.

“After all, some of these are tax cuts. Republicans have long supported that. Conservatives economists have long supported that. What in my opinion is getting the ire of many in the right is higher taxes on financial institutions, capital gains for the wealthy and changes in some of the tax inheritance system,” Kerstein said.  

Obama discusses a budget plan that includes some extra spending from the government, but also talks about closing many loopholes that have cost the government extra revenue. Simplifying the tax system is one of the few bipartisan issues in Washington D.C, but has seen little action in the past. Since Obama and Senator Join Ernst mentioned this in their speeches Tuesday, this may indicate that there will finally be some resolution on the complex structure.

“I don’t think anyone defends the system exactly as it is. Most democrats and republicans I am aware of have called for lowering the top rates, but as well closing the loopholes. Why that hasn’t been done, I don’t know the intricacies, but we certainly know that part of it has to do with political influence,” Kerstein said. 

Much of the language in the State of Union indicated that Obama was pushing a hardline with Congress, threatening to veto bills and making it clear that the government should not play a part in halting progress. Even when discussing foreign policy, the president publicly pushed Congress to support his decision on the terrorist group ISIL, also referred to as ISIS. 

“And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL. We need that authority,” Obama said. 

While it is unlikely that this administration would put boots on the ground in another international conflict, it is possible there was another agenda behind this statement. Kerstein points out that having Congress support military power would be key leverage when discussing action with other countries against the group. Leverage seems to be another theme of this year’s State of The Union, as many of these actions may not go through at a federal level. 

“There are some areas where right away I think we can get some cooperation. There are some areas where it’s important to frame the debate, and get the American people behind us because even something doesn’t happen immediately here in Washington. It starts happening around the country,” said Obama in his interview with Youtube star, Hank Green.  

It is important to remember that the president is unable to create laws, but can certainly use his position to exert influence over the type of issues Congress tries to reform. Even if those on Capitol Hill refuse to address his plans, this speech is an opportunity to push states into creating referendums for citizens to vote on. 

“I think he is trying to stimulate activists in the state level, democrats in the legislature including state levels. And democrats have been losing seats in the state levels. So I think he is encouraging them to go forth with legislations and referendums on the ballots and so on,” Kerstein said.

Doha Madani can be reached at

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