© 2024 WUTC
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Middle Class Economics Dominate Obama's State Of The Union


One phrase from President Obama's State of the Union speech that quickly became a hashtag was middle-class economics. Here's how he defined it.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Middle class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change. It means helping folks afford child care, college, health care, a home, retirement.

CORNISH: The president said that the budget he sends to Congress in two weeks will address the challenges middle-class families face in all of these areas and more. And during his speech the president sketched out his proposals. As NPR's John Ydstie reports, members of the Republican-controlled Congress were unimpressed.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: The president wants to provide help for middle-class families in more than a half dozen different ways. One would be providing a new $500 tax credit for families where both spouses are working. Another would be to dramatically expand child care benefits to up to $3,000 a year for each child under five. The president said last night it's time to stop treating child care as a side issue...


OBAMA: ...Or as a women's issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.

YDSTIE: The president also called for legislation from Congress mandating equal pay for women and boosting the minimum wage. He's also pushing a plan to make it easier for workers to save for retirement through their employer. And Obama proposed making two years of community college free. He pointed to Tennessee which has Republican leadership and Chicago with its Democratic mayor as places where it's already happened.


OBAMA: I want to spread that idea all across so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today.

YDSTIE: To help pay for that, the president would consolidate six current overlapping provisions that provide help to students. Most controversially, he would once again make the proceeds from 529 educational savings accounts taxable. That produced objections from Republicans today including Kansas representative Lynn Jenkins.


CONGRESSMAN LYNN JENKINS: Middle income families that have worked hard and saved to send their children to college should receive our support, not a tax bill to pay for his agenda.

YDSTIE: Republicans also took issue with the president's proposal for paid sick leave. He pointed out that the U.S. is the only advanced country that doesn't mandate paid sick leave, forcing parents to choose between a paycheck and a sick child.


OBAMA: Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of pay, sick leave. It's the right thing to do.

YDSTIE: Alabama Republican Representative Martha Roby said she and her colleagues have a better approach.


CONGRESSMAN MARTHA ROBY: We couldn't agree with you more that we need to be helping working moms and dads. So he has the right goal, he just has the wrong approach. More mandates on the workforce is not the way to go.

YDSTIE: Roby introduced a bill today in the house that would instead allow workers to trade overtime hours worked for sick leave. To pay for his plans, the president proposed raising taxes on well-off individuals and big banks, including raising the taxes on income from investments like capital gains and dividends to 28 percent. House Speaker John Boehner made clear the president's ideas are not welcomed by Republicans.


CONGRESSMAN JOHN BOEHNER: All the president really offered last night was more taxes, more government, more of the same approach that has failed the middle class for decades.

YDSTIE: But Boehner's suggestion for a better approach was also familiar. Replace Obamacare, fix the broken tax code, and balance the federal budget. John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Ydstie has covered the economy, Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve at NPR for nearly three decades. Over the years, NPR has also employed Ydstie's reporting skills to cover major stories like the aftermath of Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He was a lead reporter in NPR's coverage of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession, as well as the network's coverage of President Trump's economic policies. Ydstie has also been a guest host on the NPR news programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Ydstie stepped back from full-time reporting in late 2018, but plans to continue to contribute to NPR through part-time assignments and work on special projects.