President Barack Obama focused much of his fifth State of the Union address on cheerleading the country's future as well as how he aims to take advantage of the ever-improving economy to narrow the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
The sweeping speech, which stretched more than an hour, was short of soaring rhetoric or bold promises. It was the address of a president down in his approval rating and facing an intransigent Congress.
Obama touted the fact that the unemployment rate is at it's lowest in five years, an improved housing market, increases in manufacturing since he took office and deficit reduction.
"I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America," he said, before the joint session of Congress. "After five years of grit and determined effort, the United States is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth."
In announcing he was raising the minimum wage of new federal contractors to $10.10 per hour, he urged Congress to raise the national minimum wage as well, as he did last year - a prospect likely to meet the same fate.
And while Obama sought at times to court Republican support for his initiatives, including tax reform, developing manufacturing hubs, increasing opportunities for small businesses, an immigration overhaul and education reform, he didn't shy away from criticizing House Republicans for acting as roadblocks for much of last year.
"For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government," he said. "It's an important debate – one that dates back to our very founding. But when that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy – when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States – then we are not doing right by the American people."
Hoping to rally national pride over partisanship, Obama said it was imperative for Congress to support bipartisan economic initiatives or risk falling behind in the global economy.
"China and Europe aren't standing on the sidelines; neither should we," he said.
In making his brief case for immigration reform, Obama pitched it as an opportunity to stimulate the economy.
"Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades," Obama said. "And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone. So let's get immigration reform done this year."
Despite having education reforms offering incentives through a grant-based program called Race to the Top, Obama said more change is necessary to improve the nation's schools and announced a public-private effort to expand access to pre-K.
"Some of this change is hard," he said. "It requires everything from more challenging curriculums and more demanding parents to better support for teachers and new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test. But it's worth it – and it's working. The problem is we're still not reaching enough kids, and we're not reaching them in time. That has to change."
His most scrutinized domestic initiative, the Affordable Care Act, got only a brief mention in his address. He highlighted the controversial health care reform law – that had a rocky launch – in terms of economic security and announced that 3 million Americans under 26 have signed up for coverage on their parents plans in addition to 9 million previously uninsured adults who have signed up through private insurance or expanded Medicaid access. Obama even invited Republicans to come forward with ideas, but cautioned them to abandon efforts to repeal the law.