DENVER – President Barack Obama during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night placed a spotlight on the middle class, highlighting a familiar Democratic theme that has once again surfaced in Colorado.
As Democrats look toward 2016 following a blistering election season, in which Republicans took control of both the U.S. and Colorado senates, the left has placed a renewed focus on Middle America.
The message they are pushing is simple: Democrats want breaks for the working class, while Republicans have focused too much on the wealthiest Americans.
Obama over the weekend announced a plan to provide a $500 tax credit for married couples who each hold jobs. During his address Tuesday, he took the plan a step further, calling for reforms to the nation’s tax code by placing more of a burden on the rich.
The president also called for assistance for child care and providing free community college. He suggested that it is time to provide paid sick leave and raise the minimum wage.
“So the verdict is clear,” Obama said during remarks on Tuesday. “Middle-class economics works. Expanding opportunity works. And these policies will continue to work, as long as politics don’t get in the way.”
Obama invited a Denver woman, Carolyn Reed, to sit in the first lady’s box during the address. Reed wrote to the president about how she expanded her Silver Mine Subs shop in Denver thanks to a loan from the Small Business Administration. Reed gave hourly employees a raise to $10.10, which played into Obama’s message of how the middle class can help the economy grow.
Democrats have touted a similar theme in Colorado. Party leaders repeatedly pointed to the middle class during opening day remarks at the Capitol, suggesting it is their top priority. Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, made several mentions of the middle class during his State of the State address last week.
But newly elected U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Yuma, said in a video response that under Democratic leadership the middle class has not seen enough progress.
“Measures like labor force participation and workers hourly earnings are either flat or going in the wrong direction, indicating that we still have a long ways to go until the middle class feels like there’s a recovery,” Gardner said.
He suggested that Obama should do more to support the natural-gas and oil industry.
“Rather than trying to slow down American energy production, we should be doing even more to encourage it,” Gardner said.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, took issue with the president’s confident, almost sassy, victory declaration. Obama pointed to the fastest-growing economy since 1999, stating, “Tonight, we turn the page ... The state of the union is strong.”
But Tipton said economic challenges still face rural Southwest Colorado, where job growth has lagged the state and nation. He recommended a simpler tax code, while decreasing regulations.
“We are seeing communities that are struggling and people that want to be able to get back to work, and we need to be able to create those opportunities where we are not stifling business development, but encouraging it,” Tipton told The Durango Herald following the president’s remarks.
Colorado’s senior U.S. senator, Michael Bennet, a Democrat, looked forward to bipartisan cooperation to help the middle class.
“ There are bipartisan steps we can take to strengthen our economy and make the American dream more achievable,” he said. “There is consensus in both parties that our roads, bridges, dams, and overall infrastructure need to be repaired and upgraded. We should get to work on that.”
Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call called Obama’s address “lip service,” stating that millions of Americans are still struggling.
“President Obama’s plan to increase spending, raise taxes, oppose the responsible development of oil and gas, and increase the regulatory burden on hardworking Americans will derail our fragile recovery,” Call said.
But Hickenlooper said the president hit close to home by placing a focus on the middle class.
“That strategy has been at the cornerstone of our economic blueprint for Colorado throughout the last four years,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “And as I mentioned in our State of the State just a few days ago, in Colorado, we will remain relentlessly committed to workforce development, education and job training.”
email@example.com. Michael Cipriano is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.
“We are fifteen years into this new century. Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world. It has been, and still is, a hard time for many.
But tonight, we turn the page.”
“At this moment – with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production – we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth. It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come.
Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”
“So the verdict is clear. Middle-class economics works. Expanding opportunity works. And these policies will continue to work, as long as politics don’t get in the way.”
“In fact, at every moment of economic change throughout our history, this country has taken bold action to adapt to new circumstances, and to make sure everyone gets a fair shot. We set up worker protections, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to protect ourselves from the harshest adversity. We gave our citizens schools and colleges, infrastructure and the internet – tools they needed to go as far as their effort will take them.
That’s what middle-class economics is – the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”
“I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership. We lead best when we combine military power with strong diplomacy; when we leverage our power with coalition building; when we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents. That’s exactly what we’re doing right now – and around the globe, it is making a difference.”
“In Iraq and Syria, American leadership – including our military power – is stopping ISIL’s advance. Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group. We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism. This effort will take time. It will require focus. But we will succeed. 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.”
“No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids. We are making sure our government integrates intelligence to combat cyber threats, just as we have done to combat terrorism. And tonight, I urge this Congress to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyber-attacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children’s information. If we don’t act, we’ll leave our nation and our economy vulnerable. If we do, we can continue to protect the technologies that have unleashed untold opportunities for people around the globe.”