Obama now set for two years of war with the Republicans
President Barack Obama has set the stage for two years of grinding political warfare with Republicans in Congress, asking them to accept higher taxes on the rich while threatening to use his veto power to block many of their priorities.
In his first State of the Union address since Republicans seized control of Congress in November's election, Mr Obama declared that "the shadow of crisis has passed" after more than a decade of turmoil that began with 9/11 and continued through a painful recession.
"We are 15 years into this new century," Mr Obama said. "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."
He said the US should move forward into this new era with a programme of "middle-class economics" that would raise taxes on the wealthy in order to provide more support for the less affluent. His agenda was met with rapturous applause from Democrats but stands virtually no chance of becoming reality while the Republicans hold majorities in both the House and the Senate. Within minutes of Mr Obama finishing his address, Republicans lined up to pronounce his agenda dead on arrival.
"These aren't just the wrong policies, they're the wrong priorities," said John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House. As well as laying out his progressive policy proposals, Mr Obama promised that he would use his veto powers to stop Republicans from rolling back his policies on healthcare, immigration and the environment. "We can't put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unravelling the new rules on Wall Street, or re-fighting past battles on immigration when we've got a system to fix," said Mr Obama.
"If a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto." The first clash is likely to be over the Keystone XL pipeline, a controversial pipeline proposal that would move oil from the tar sands of Canada to refineries on the southern coast of the United States.
Republicans, backed by some conservative Democrats, are moving ahead with a bill to force the White House to approve the project, arguing it would be a boon for the economy.
Mr Obama has already said he would veto the bill and told Congress it needed to set its sights "higher than a single pipeline". He also threatened to veto legislation that would impose new sanctions on Iran if negotiations over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme do not reach an agreement by their June 30 deadline. Mr Obama said such a bill would lead to the breakdown of the talks and "all but guarantee that diplomacy fails".
"That's why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress," he said.
Mr Obama also defended his decision to bring Cuba in from the cold and end America's 50-year-old policy of trying to isolate the Caribbean island in the hope that its communist dictatorship would crumble.
Mr Obama expressed his hope for "a better politics" where US leaders "appeal to each other's basic decency instead of our basest fears".
He also spoke directly to the new Republican majority before him, saying: "I will not only seek out your ideas, I will seek to work with you to make this country stronger."
One possible area of compromise is a bill that would expressly authorise the use of military force against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil). Mr Obama called on Congress "to show the world that we are united" by passing a bill spelling out America's commitment to combat the jihadis.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)