John Boehner’s attempts to look enthused, the many faces of Joe Biden, and a plethora of awkward bipartisan interactions were not the only highlights from last night’s State of the Union. President Obama took a more aggressive stance than usual in his annual address. He asserted that the public had voted in favor of his agenda and hinted that he would not be as willing to compromise in his second term.
The president promised to wind down – by next year — a conflict that has defined my generation. He announced an end to the war in Afghanistan as his headline issue. This spring, he promised, American forces would draw back into a support role and allow Afghan security teams to take over the brunt of the effort. “Beyond 2014, America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change,” the president said. Beyond the war’s end, he claimed, the administration will work with the Afghan government to train its forces, as well as to allow Americans to proceed with counterterrorist efforts focused on al Qaeda.
As was to be expected, the president allotted much of the hour to speaking about his economic agenda. Most notably, he addressed the subject of minimum wage, an issue frequently neglected over the past few years. You may see a little extra cash in your pocket at your summer job, as the president plans to advocate for raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour “so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on”.
As a college sophomore, I am all too familiar with the seemingly unreasonable price tag stuck on a university education and was glad to hear the president address the importance of bringing down higher education costs. Obama highlighted how his administration had used tax credits, grants, and better loans to make college affordable, but noted that taxpayers could no longer bear the burden of “subsidizing higher and higher costs for higher education.” He called upon Congress to improve the Higher Education Act, altering it to account for college affordability and value. Universities would then receive federal aid based on their ratio of affordability to value.
The president also found time to touch briefly upon reforms that could ease your voting experience come the next election. He announced the creation of a non-partisan presidential Voting Commission designated to improve the American voting process. The Commission would be chaired by top attorneys from both the Obama and Romney campaigns. “When any Americans–no matter where they live or what their party—are denied that right simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying out ideals,” Obama said on the right to vote.