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Obama Focuses on Economic Growth


President Barack Obama gestures as he gives his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 12, 2013

President Barack Obama gestures as he gives his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 12, 2013

U.S. President Barack Obama travels to Asheville, North Carolina Wednesday to promote the main themes of his State of the Union speech, which focused his proposals to strengthen the nation's fragile economy.

Obama spoke to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, saying it is "our generation's task ... to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth - a rising, thriving middle class."

He emphasized the importance of creating new jobs.

The president warned that the automatic spending cuts set to take effect if Congress cannot reach a budget deal will jeopardize military readiness, slow economic growth and devastate priorities like education, energy and medical research.

Obama also urged Congress to pass legislation on two issues currently under debate on Capitol Hill - gun control and immigration reform.

Afghanistan drawdown

On Afghanistan, President Obama announced that about half of the U.S. forces currently serving there -- roughly 34,000 -- will be home within a year. At its peak in the decade-long war, the United States had about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. A full transfer of security control from NATO to Afghan forces is scheduled for 2014.

In his speech, President Obama called for a bipartisan market-based solution to climate change, and said if Congress does not act to protect future generations, he will take executive action to do so. He said he also wants to work with Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn cleaner and protects the air and water.

The president announced the start of negotiations on a free trade agreement between the United States and the European Union. The 27-nation EU is the United States' largest trading partner.

President Obama said he signed a new executive order that will strengthen cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect national security, jobs and privacy. He said Congress must pass legislation to give the government a greater capacity to secure networks and deter attacks.

Republican response

US Senator Marco Rubio (2013 photo)

US Senator Marco Rubio (2013 photo)

In the Republican Party response, Senator Marco Rubio said the "free enterprise economy" is the source of middle class prosperity. He accused President Obama of believing it is the cause of the country's economic woes.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the president is required "from time to time" give Congress information about the state of the union and to recommend "such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."

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