Obama Calls for an Economy "Built to Last" in State of the Union Address

The president says every American deserves a fair shot at prosperity.

Posted: 01/24/2012 07:20 PM EST

In his third State of the Union, and what he’s hoping won’t be his last, President Obama addressed the nation about economic opportunity and fairness in America.

The defining issue of our time is keeping that promise alive, the president said.

"We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by,” he said. “Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them.”

The debate over whether to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans has been the source of one of the biggest areas of friction between the White House and congressional Republicans in measure after measure. Republicans have accused Obama of pitting the poor against the wealthy, while he and his Democratic colleagues have argued that it’s an issue of fairness.

“Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense,” Obama said.

He also said that companies that ship jobs overseas should not be rewarded and that every multi-national company should have to pay a basic minimum tax, “and every penny should go toward lowering taxes for companies that choose to stay here and hire here.”

Throughout the economic crisis, the African-American unemployment rate has been almost double that of the overall national rate. That’s in part, education experts, economists and politicians agree, because of a high high school drop-out rate that leaves many unqualified for the most basic of jobs. Obama called for providing teachers with the resources they need to do their jobs but also to make students more accountable for their futures.

“We also know that when students aren’t allowed to walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diplomas. So tonight, I call on every state to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18,” Obama said.

Nothing is more fundamental than having a safe and secure roof over one’s head, and the staggering number of foreclosures that have taken place during the nation’s economic crisis is an example of an economic toll that just about everybody can relate to.

Obama announced a plan that would enable struggling but responsible homeowners to take advantage of historically low interest rates and save approximately $3,000 a year on their mortgages.

“No more red tape. No more runaround from the banks. A small fee on the largest financial institutions will ensure that it won’t add to the deficit, and will give banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust,” Obama said.

The president also said that he would ask federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand investigations into the abusive lending practices that led to the housing crisis.

"Let's never forget: Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that do the same. It's time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: no bailouts, no handouts and no cop-outs. An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody," said the president.

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