US President Barack Obama has declared an end to the financial crisis and pledged economic policies to benefit all Americans, in his annual State of the Union address to Congress.
In a speech devised to appeal to working families, Mr Obama outlined his strategy for “middle-class economics”.
“It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next 15 years,” he said.
But the plans are unlikely to make it past a Republican-controlled Congress.
In a speech which he described as more focused on values than policies, Mr Obama declared America had turned a page after the worst recession since the Depression.
The president said he planned to build on this growth by providing working families with help in the form of sick and maternity leave and affordable childcare.
“Middle-class economics works. Expanding opportunity works. And these politics will continue to work, as long as politics don’t get in the way,” he said.
He also pledged that Congress should pass a law to give women the same wages as men for doing the same job. “It’s 2015. It’s time,” he said.
Mr Obama’s speech included plans to build a competitive economy by improving America’s infrastructure and providing free access to community college.
“This plan is your chance to graduate ready for a new economy, without a load of debt,” he said.
In a policy which is likely to bring him into direct conflict with the Republican-led Congress, Mr Obama pledged to close tax loopholes on large inheritances, raise capital gains tax on the richest earners from 23.8% to 28% and introduce new fees on US financial firms with assets about $50bn.
Some senior members of the Republican party had already dismissed this as “class warfare”.
Plans outlined in Obama’s speech
- improve statutory sick leave
- help nine million students to pay for community college
- stronger cybersecurity and consumer protection
- act unilaterally to hunt down terrorists
- action against climate change
- continue with plans to shut the prison in Guantanamo
- restrict use of drones
The recent cyber attacks against US were on the president’s agenda as Mr Obama urged Congress to pass legislation to give better protection against them.
“If we don’t act, we’ll leave our nation and our economy vulnerable,” he said.
On foreign policy, Mr Obama said America reserved the “right to act unilaterally” in hunting down terrorists and called on Congress to pass a resolution to authorise the use of force against Islamic State.
But he also stressed that his administration will continue to reject offensive “stereotypes of Muslims”.
The president reiterated his belief that the US could negotiate an agreement to prevent Iran gaining nuclear weapons and said he would veto any new sanctions bill which threatens this.
He said his decision to end America’s long-standing policy on Cuba and try something new had the potential to “end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere”.
Alan Gross, who was recently released after spending five years in a Cuban prison, was among Michelle Obama’s guests for the speech.
In ending his address, Mr Obama said he was optimistic he could work with Congress, despite months of political gridlock.
“I have no more campaigns to run. My only agenda for the next two years is the same as the one I’ve had since the day I swore an oath on the steps of this Capitol – to do what I believe is best for America,” he said.
But consensus with the Republican party on many of the issues he outlined is unlikely.
Responding to his speech, Republican senator and rising star, Joni Ernst, said Americans have not seen solutions from Mr Obama and criticised his health and immigration policies.
“Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare,” she said
The senator called on Mr Obama to work with Republicans on issues where they might have common ground – including a trade deal and tax code reform.