UK & World News
State Of Union: Obama Vows To Bypass Gridlock
President Barack Obama has vowed to bypass a divided Congress and take action to boost the US economy after a troubled year in office.
Facing strong Republican opposition and low approval ratings after the worst year of his presidency, Mr Obama unveiled actions that do not need congressional approval to bypass partisan gridlock that has held back his presidency.
They include raising the hourly minimum wage for new federal contracts to $10.10, helping the long-term unemployed find work and expanding job training programmes.
He said: "Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled.
"The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by - let alone get ahead.
"And too many still aren't working at all."
He was greeted with warm applause as he arrived to give the address to a joint session of Congress.
Speaking on partisan politics that have stalled action, including his flagship Affordable Care Act, he said: "We are not doing right by the American people.
"After five years of grit and determined effort, the US is better positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth.
"Let's make this a year of action. That's what most Americans want - for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations."
Mr Obama also singled out the gender pay gap and said bridging the difference between women's and men's salaries would help the US succeed.
He said: "A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job.
"A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship - and you know what, a father does, too.
"It's time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a 'Mad Men' episode. Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds."
He promised to improve US education, by connecting 15,000 schools and 20 million students with high-speed broadband in the next two years.
The initiative will be supported by charitable partnerships with companies including Apple, Microsoft, Sprint and Verizon.
Mr Obama proposed new incentives for vehicles which run on natural gas and alternative fuels, as well as expansion of the earned-income tax credit, which helps boost the wages of low-income families through tax refunds.
He also called on Republicans to stop attempts to stall his health reform.
And he warned Congress he would veto new economic sanctions against Iran as negotiations to limit its nuclear programme continue. An estimated $7bn in international sanctions have been lifted against Iran in exchange for it slowing the programme.
He also vowed to support democracy in Ukraine, warned al Qaeda's threat had evolved and yet again urged Congress to let him close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In a televised response, Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers criticised Mr Obama's healthcare and called for lesser government involvement.
She said: "I'd like to share a more hopeful, Republican vision.
"It's one that champions free markets and trusts people to make their own decisions, not a government that decides for you."
A poll this month found 45% of those surveyed approved of Mr Obama, compared to 53% against.
Republicans have blocked many of Mr Obama's initiatives, including on gun control and climate change, and this year's mid-term elections make it unlikely they will rally behind his proposals.
In the autumn, federal government in the US shut down for 16 days and brought the country to the brink of default as Republicans refused to sign through budget proposals.
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