Obama in State of the Union: Tax wealthy, help middle class

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It's Been a Hard Time for Many, but Time to 'Turn the Page,' Obama Says

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Refusing to bend to the new Republican Congress, President Barack Obama unveiled Tuesday night an ambitious State of the Union agenda steeped in Democratic priorities, including tax increases on the wealthy, education and child care help for the middle class and a torrent of veto threats for the GOP's own plans.

In a shift from tradition, Obama's address to a joint session of Congress was less a laundry list of new proposals and more an attempt to sell a story of a national economy emerging from the "shadow of crisis." He appealed for "better politics" in Washington and pledged to work with Republicans, but he showed few signs of curtailing or tweaking his own plans to meet GOP priorities.

Instead, the president vowed to use his veto pen to strike down the Republican leadership's efforts to dismantle his signature accomplishments, including his health care and financial reform laws.

"We can't put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street or refighting past battles on immigration when we've got a system to fix," Obama said in his hour-long address. "And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, I will veto it."

The president sought out more common ground on foreign policy, pledging to work with Congress on a new authorization for military action against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, as well as legislation to guard against cyberattacks. In a rare move away from his own party, Obama also renewed his call for fast-tracking free trade agreements with Asia and Europe, generating more applause from pro-trade Republicans than skeptical Democrats.

Obama's address marked the first time in his presidency that he stood before a Republican-controlled Congress. Yet the shift in the political landscape has also been accompanied by a burst of economic growth and hiring, as well as a slight increase in Obama's once-sagging approval ratings - leaving the White House to see little incentive in acquiescing to Republicans.

After ticking through signs of the rising economy, the president turned toward Republicans sitting in the chamber and said with a wink, "This is good news, people."

The centerpiece of Obama's economic proposals marked a shift away from the focus on austerity and deficit reduction that has dominated his fiscal fights with Republicans. In a direct challenge to GOP economic ideology, Obama called for increasing the capital gains rate on couples making more than $500,000 annually, to 28 percent.

The president's tax plan would also require estates to pay capital gains taxes on securities at the time they're inherited and slap a fee on the roughly 100 U.S. financial firms with assets of more than $50 billion.

Much of the $320 billion in new taxes and fees would be used for measures aimed at helping the middle class, including a $500 tax credit for some families with two spouses working, expansion of the child care tax credit and a $60 billion program to make community college free. He also has called for expanding paid leave for workers and moved on his own to lower a mortgage insurance premium rate that could attract new homebuyers.

"Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?" Obama asked. "Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?"

The president's proposals seemed more about giving his party a platform in the 2016 election than outlining a realistic legislative agenda. Even before the president's address, Republicans were balking at his proposals and painting a far less rosy picture of the economy.

"We see our neighbors agonize over stagnant wages and lost jobs. We see the hurt caused by canceled health care plans and higher monthly insurance bills," said Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who delivered the Republican response. "But when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare. It's a mindset that gave us political talking points, not serious solutions."

With an eye on a swirl of foreign policy challenges, Obama defended his decision to return to military action in Iraq and also authorize airstrikes in Syria. He said Congress could "show the world that we are united in this mission" by passing a new resolution formally authorizing the use of force against the Islamic State group.

As the U.S. eyes a March deadline for a framework agreement with Iran on its disputed nuclear program, the president vowed to veto any effort by Congress to pass new sanctions legislation. Such a step, he said, "will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails - alienating America from its allies and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again."

The president also heralded his unilateral move last month to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba after a half-century of animosity, and he urged lawmakers to follow his lead by lifting the economic embargo on the communist island. Yet the guest boxes in the House chamber underscored the sensitive politics that hang over efforts to overhaul the long-standing U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Among the guests sitting with first lady Michelle Obama was Alan Gross, the American man who spent five years in a Cuban prison and was released as part of the deal to end the freeze between Washington and Havana. In a nod to the concerns of Cuban dissidents and pro-democracy advocates, House Speaker John Boehner's guest was Jorge Luis García Pérez, who spent 17 years in a Cuban prison. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio brought Rosa Maria Paya Acevedo, whose father was a well-known Cuban dissident who was killed in a car accident that his family believes was suspicious.

Obama appeared at ease throughout the address, adlibbing at times and responding to the audience reaction. As he neared the end of his speech, he declared, "I have no more campaigns to run." As Republicans erupted in laughter, Obama retorted, "I know, because I won both of them."

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Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler, Josh Lederman, Jim Kuhnhenn and Stacy A. Anderson contributed to this report.

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Obama in State of the Union: Tax wealthy, help middle class
President Obama mostly focused on economic issues, taxes and the middle class in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. He also discussed foreign policy and called for congress to authorize the use of force against Islamic State militants. (Jan. 21)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands after delivering the State of the Union address on January 20, 2015 in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Obama was expected to lay out a broad agenda to address income inequality, making it easier for Americans to afford college education, and child care. (Photo by Mandel Ngan-Pool/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama, center, speaks with Secretary of State John Kerry as he enters the House Chamber to deliver the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington, U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. Obama declared the U.S. economy healed and said the nation now must begin work to close the gap between the well-off and the wanting. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. President Barack Obama, left, shakes hands with an attendee as he arrives to deliver the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. Obama declared the U.S. economy healed and said the nation now must begin work to close the gap between the well-off and the wanting. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
US President Barack Obama departs following his State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington on January 20, 2015. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: U.S. lawmakers pay tribute to the victims of the Paris terrorist attacks by holding up pencils during the State of the Union address by U.S. President Barack Obama on January 20, 2015 in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Obama was expected to lay out a broad agenda to address income inequality, making it easier for Americans to afford college education, and child care. (Photo by Mandel Ngan-Pool/Getty Images)
US lawmakers pay tribute to the victims of the Paris attacks by holding up pencils during the State of the Union address by US President Barack Obama, before a joint session of Congress on January 20, 2015 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, bottom row second left, astronaut Scott Kelly, top row from right, aid worker Alan Gross, a former Cuban prisoner, and his wife Judy Gross applaud while listening to U.S. President Barack Obama, not pictured, deliver the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol with in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. Obama declared the U.S. economy healed and said the nation now must begin work to close the gap between the well-off and the wanting. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington, D.C., applauds as she listens to U.S. President Barack Obama, not pictured, deliver the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. Obama declared the U.S. economy healed and said the nation now must begin work to close the gap between the well-off and the wanting. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. President Barack Obama, front, waves as he arrives to deliver the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress while U.S. Vice President Joseph 'Joe' Biden, second right, and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, right, applaud at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. Obama declared the U.S. economy healed and said the nation now must begin work to close the gap between the well-off and the wanting. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before members of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama was expected to lay out a broad agenda to including attempts to address income inequality and making it easier for Americans to afford college education and child care. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. Obama declared the U.S. economy healed and said the nation now must begin work to close the gap between the well-off and the wanting. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, in Washington, as Vice President Joe Biden applauds and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, listens. (AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before members of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama presented a broad agenda on income inequality and making it easier for Americans to afford college education and child care. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address on January 20, 2015 in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Obama was expected to lay out a broad agenda to address income inequality, making it easier for Americans to afford college education, and child care. (Photo by Mandel Ngan-Pool/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama listens to applause as he arrives to deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, in Washington. Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, applaud in the background. (AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: U.S. President Barack Obama arrives for the State of the Union address on January 20, 2015 in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Obama was expected to lay out a broad agenda to address income inequality, making it easier for Americans to afford college education, and child care. (Photo by Mandel Ngan-Pool/Getty Images)
Alan Gross (C), the US contractor released from prison in Cuba last month, is applauded during US President Barack Obama's State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington on January 20, 2015. AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union speech before members of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. CapitolJanuary 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama was expected to lay out a broad agenda to address income inequality, making it easier for Americans to afford college education, and child care. Also pictured are Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R) (R-OH). (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Alan Gross (C), recently freed after being held in Cuba since 2009, pumps his fist after being recognized by U.S. President Barack Obama during the State of the Union speech in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Barack Obama was expected to lay out a broad agenda including attempts to address income inequality and making it easier for Americans to afford college education and child care. Also pictured are Dr. Pranav Shetty of Washington, DC, Judy Gross, and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before members of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama was expected to lay out a broad agenda to including attempts to address income inequality and making it easier for Americans to afford college education and child care. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before members of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama was expected to lay out a broad agenda to including attempts to address income inequality and making it easier for Americans to afford college education and child care. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama prepares to give his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama waves before giving his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker of Ohio listen as President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Barack Obama waves before giving his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Vice President Joe Biden applaud (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Barack Obama gives a copy of his State of the Union address to Vice President Joe Biden, prior to delivering it before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015.House Speaker John Boehner of hio is at right. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before members of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama was expected to lay out a broad agenda to including attempts to address income inequality and making it easier for Americans to afford college education and child care. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama is greeted on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, before his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
US President Barack Obama (R) departs following his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill January 20, 2014 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO / BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama arrives to deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool)
US President Barack Obama (C) arrives to deliver the State of The Union address on January 20, 2015, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama arrives to deliver the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington on January 20, 2015. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama greets House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Vice President Joe Bien on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, before his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress . (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Barack Obama hugs Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, before giving his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
U.S. President Barack Obama greets attendees as he arrives to deliver the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. Obama declared the U.S. economy healed and said the nation now must begin work to close the gap between the well-off and the wanting. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) talks with Speaker of the House U.S. Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) before the start of U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama was expected to lay out a broad agenda to address income inequality, making it easier for Americans to afford college education, and child care. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Gen. Raymond Odierno (L) talks with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) before the start of U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama was expected to lay out a broad agenda to including attempts to address income inequality and making it easier for Americans to afford college education and child care. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (C) shakes hands before the start of the State of the Union speech in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Barack Obama was expected to lay out a broad agenda including attempts to address income inequality and making it easier for Americans to afford college education and child care. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Speaker of the House John Boehner await the arrival of President Barack Obama for the State of The Union address on January 20, 2015 in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Obama was expected to lay out a broad agenda to address income inequality, making it easier for Americans to afford college education, and child care. (Photo by Mandel Ngan-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry greets members of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol before U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama was expected to lay out a broad agenda including attempts to address income inequality and making it easier for Americans to afford college education and child care. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rep.Paul Ryam R-Wis. waits on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress . (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Speaker of the House U.S. Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) wait for the start of U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama was expected to lay out a broad agenda to including attempts to address income inequality and making it easier for Americans to afford college education and child care. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Attorney General Eric Holder talks with Rep.Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, before President Baraclk Obama's State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, talks with Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., left, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Alan Gross waves from the first lady's box before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Chief Justice John Roberts arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, for President Barack Obama;s State of the Union addre. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell waits for the start of the State of the Union address by President Barack Obama Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool)
First lady Michelle Obama acknowledges applause on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. Front rowm from left are, Astrid Muhammad, Anthony Mendez, Mrs. Obama, and Jill Biden. Second row, from left are, Pranav Shetty, Judy Gross, Alan Gross and Scott Kelly. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
US First Lady Michelle Obama arrives for the State of the Union address by husband US President Barack Obama at the US Capitol in Washington on January 20, 2015. AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, center, attends the State of the Union address by U.S. President Barack Obama, not pictured, to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. Obama declared the U.S. economy healed and said the nation now must begin work to close the gap between the well-off and the wanting. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: U.S. President Barack Obama's motorcade makes its way along Independence Avenue toward the U.S. Capitol prior to the State of the Union address to Congress, January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama was expected to lay out a broad agenda to address income inequality, making it easier for Americans to afford college education, and child care. (Photo by Drew Angerer-Pool/Getty Images)
Members of the media set up for television broadcasts in National Statuary Hall before U.S. President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. President Obama will focus on the gap between wealthy Americans and middle- and lower income households Tuesday night in Washington when he lays out his plans for what the White House is calling the 'fourth quarter' of his presidency. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. Capitol police officers stand on guard in the Capitol Building Rotunda before U.S. President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. President Obama will focus on the gap between wealthy Americans and middle- and lower income households Tuesday night in Washington when he lays out his plans for what the White House is calling the 'fourth quarter' of his presidency. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images`
Capitol police gather at the Capitol in Washington on January 20, 2015 before US President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: The sun sets behind the U.S. Capitol ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. Later this evening, Obama will deliver his sixth and final State of the Union adress to the nation. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: U.S. Capitol Police Officer John O'Shea (C) checks passes while standing guard ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address at the Capitol building January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. Later this evening, Obama will deliver his sixth and final State of the Union adress to the nation. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
The Washington Monument is seen on the eve of the State of the Union address on Capitol Hill January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. US President Barack Obama will on Tuesday demand a hostile Congress increase taxes on the rich, in a State of the Union address that sets the stage for coming election battles. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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