President targets US economic inequality

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President Barack Obama used his annual State of the Union policy address to denounce America’s economic inequality, drawing a battle line with Republicans ahead of what is expected to be a tough fight for re-election.

The nationally televised speech before a joint session of Congress put Mr Obama back in the spotlight after months of being overshadowed by the fierce race among Republicans campaigning to be his opponent in the November election.

At the core of Mr Obama’s address was the improving but deeply wounded economy – the matter driving Americans’ anxiety and the one likely to determine the next president.

With little hope of getting a divided Congress to approve much of his legislative agenda, Mr Obama spoke with voters in mind.

He outlined a vastly different vision for fixing the country than the one pressed by the Republicans.

He pleaded for an active government that ensures economic fairness for everyone, as his opponents demand that the government let the free market rule.

He called for higher taxes on millionaires and aid for the middle class.

“We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by.

“Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules,” he said.

In the Republicans’ formal response, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels denounced the speech as “pro-poverty” and Mr Obama’s tactics as divisive.

Even before Mr Obama spoke, he was under criticism from one of the two top contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, who asked whether Mr Obama would “show a willingness to put aside the extreme ideology of the far Left”.