In a 43-minute speech that mixed appeals for a united sense of purpose with sharply partisan jabs, the president laid out his vision of a country strengthened both by fewer debts and a greater diligence to solving the problems of Medicaid and Medicare. In promising to preserve those programs, he enlists his administration in the beginning of what is expected to be an epic battle with Republicans over their fate.
"We are a better country because of these commitments,'' he said in an impassioned defense of Medicaid and Medicare against Republicans' push for sweeping changes. "I'll go further — we would not be a great country without those commitments.''
Obama also sought cuts in defense spending and renewed his pitch for a simpler tax code. His call for the end of the Bush tax cuts for incomes above $250,000 for couples reignites a ferocious debate from the fall midterm elections.
That element of the speech triggered the most vociferous and immediate opposition from Republicans. "Any plan that starts with job-destroying tax hikes is a nonstarter,'' House Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, said in a statement.