Obama sets second term agenda in State of the Union address

On Feb. 12, President Obama gave his fifth State of theUnion speech to a joint session of Congress. The president largely focused ondomestic issues, but also addressed foreign policy in the annual address.

Among the president’s policy proposals was an increase ofthe federal minimum wage from $7.25 up to $9. This measure would most likely have great support among voters, with 73 percent of Americans supporting a wage increase in a February 2012 poll by Lake Research. UTSA political science professor Walter Wilsons said, it is unlikely to pass, however, due to Third Partybusiness interests influencing lawmakers: “What it boils down to is thatthe Chamber of Commerce and so on don’t want to see the minimum wage raise andthe Republicans will oppose it.”

President Obama also proposed an expansion in theavailability of free, high-quality preschool services. According to the WhiteHouse, only 10 states and the District of Columbia require school districts toprovide free preschool care. Obama expressed his hopes to expand these programsto all 50 states so that those in low- to moderate-income families have accessto preschool. According to President Obama, “Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education cansave more than $7 later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teenpregnancy, even reducing violent crime.”

Regarding foreign policy, Obama made the announcement forincreased troop withdrawals from Afghanistan to bring levels to half theircurrent levels by next year. However, the administration, according to theWashington Post, is still debating what will happen in Spring 2014.

The State of the Union corresponded with the detonation of anuclear weapon in a test by North Korea that morning. With this backdrop, the presidenturged the leaders of both North Korea and Iran to engage with the U.S.diplomatically and to rein in their nuclear weapon programs. The president alsosaid he would like to build from the new START treaty with Russia, the third ina series of nuclear proliferation treaties, saying, “We’ll engage Russia to seekfurther reductions in our nuclear arsenals and continue leading the global effort tosecure nuclear materials that could fall into the wrong hands because ourability to influence others depends on our willingness to lead.”

Obama’s call for comprehensive immigration reform—namely to increaseborder security and expedited paths to citizenship—was met with applause fromboth sides of the aisle, as many Republican Congressmen joined their Democraticcounterparts in supporting what has been a sensitive issue for conservativelawmakers.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida gave the official response fromthe Republican Party. Given in both English and Spanish, his statement is partof a necessary rebranding effort in the face of shifting demographics, according to USA Today. However, Wilson said, “Rubio is definitely goodfor the Party’s image, but the fact is that his concerns are very differentfrom those of most Republicans.”

Wilson said, “While the Republicans do need immigrationreform to maintain their competitiveness nationwide…the fact is, they reallydon’t need Latino voters at the congressional level. Most congressional districtsare very gerrymandered—Republicans don’t rely on Latinos to help them getreelected, and frankly, they’re afraid that if they vote for comprehensiveimmigration reform, they will be challenged in the Republican primary.”

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky represented the Tea Party in aseparate response—a symptom of a growing divide in the Republican Party that hasresulted in split votes among GOP House members in both the fiscal cliff debateand in the election of party leadership.