Obama touts bold swath of policies

The president gave his State of the Union address to a crowd mostly made of political foes.

Liz Anderson

In his sixth State of the Union address, President Barack Obama targeted the middle class, calling attention to college affordability and offering tax breaks, as well as discussing other proposals to alleviate financial strain.

“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?” Obama said in the speech.

The president’s sentiments contrasted some in the crowd. Members of the Republican-controlled Congress responded to some statements with applause but others with silence — leaving the speech’s overall level of acceptance in question.

“Obama and the democrats essentially are setting up contrasting views of how to think about government and society,” said David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University.

By pointing to proposals that aim to alleviate financial strain for the middle class, he said, Obama is attempting to appeal to public opinion.

“Obama’s making a case for saying government can help people; government has an important role in helping make sure that people go to school,” he said.

Earlier this year, Obama introduced a plan to offer two free years of community college to some students in an effort to create a stronger trade workforce across the nation.

“Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy without a load of debt,” he said Tuesday.

Minnesota Student Association President Joelle Stangler said she supports Obama’s free tuition proposal and sees it as a positive economic development. For the economy to develop, she said, students need to pursue a post-secondary education.

But some are more critical of the plan.

“There may be an equity issue here,” Schultz said. “Why do we give pay for community college and not pay for the first two years of a four-year school?”

Other policies Obama addressed included paid sick leave and offering a “second earner” tax credit to families with children under five.

Stangler attended the speech with Senator Al Franken, D-Minn.

While in Washington, she said she met with the Minnesota senator’s educational policy advisers to promote college affordability and low-interest rates on student loans.

Stangler said Franken supported lower interest rates for students and is exploring policies to alleviate rising student debt.