13 Feb 2013

Obama pledges to revive economy, create jobs

10:37 pm on 13 February 2013

United States president Barack Obama has revealed an ambitious second-term agenda in his State of the Union speech, challenging a divided Congress to back his proposals to create jobs.

The Democratic president promised "smarter" rather than bigger government for "the many, and not just the few". He also called for efforts to reduce gun violence and urged bipartisan immigration reform.

Speaking in the House of Representatives, Mr Obama on Tuesday pledged to revive the sluggish US economy by creating "good, middle-class jobs" and proposed raising the minimum wage from $US7.25 an hour to $US9.

Delivering growth and jobs will be the "North Star that guides our efforts", Mr Obama said, but insisted that nothing he proposes will raise the deficit "by a single dime".

Mr Obama's economic blueprint has a familiar ring - he pledged during the 2012 election campaign to create a million manufacturing jobs during his second term, the BBC reports.

Republicans are strongly opposed to increased government spending, amid a rancorous political divide over how to tame the US budget deficit.

Mr Obama proposed reforms to reduce the cost of Medicare, but argued "we can't just cut our way to prosperity". The president also called for federal investment in infrastructure, clean energy and education.

People on either side of the gun control debate, which flared up again after a massacre at a school in Connecticut in December last year, watched the president speak from the gallery.

The White House has proposed a ban on certain weapons and on high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as universal background checks on gun buyers. But analysts say only the last of those measures stands much chance politically.

In addition, Mr Obama announced the withdrawal of 34,000 American troops from Afghanistan by next year.

North Korea chose to conduct an underground nuclear test on Tuesday, less than a day before the president's showpiece annual speech. Mr Obama said the US will "lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats".

He praised bipartisan efforts to draw up an immigration bill, adding that if he is sent comprehensive reform legislation, "I will sign it right away".

First Lady Michelle Obama sat with the parents of a Chicago teenage band majorette shot and killed just days after performing at the presidential inauguration in January.

The president's proposals are likely to face fierce opposition from Republicans.