US & Canada

State of the Union: Obama takes message to key states

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionIn a Pennsylvania suburb, one small business owner is unimpressed with Obama's speech, and laments the presidential campaigning so far

US President Barack Obama is beginning a three-day swing-state tour, as he seeks to hammer home his State of the Union speech in election battlegrounds.

Mr Obama will visit manufacturing companies, a university and give two high-profile television interviews.

The visits to Iowa, Michigan, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona aim to spread the message Mr Obama outlined on Tuesday.

His speech to Congress renewed a call for higher taxes on the wealthy, something Republicans strongly oppose.

The US economy is on the mend, but unemployment remains high at 8.5%.

Correspondents say Mr Obama's itinerary for the next couple of of days closely matches the re-election strategy sketched out by his campaign team.

One state in particular - Michigan - features in each of five "paths to victory" imagined by Obama re-election strategists.

'Reclaim American values'

As Mr Obama flew to his first stop in Iowa, Republican presidential hopefuls attacked the speech.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionObama renewed his call higher taxes on millionaires

Mitt Romney repeatedly called the president "detached" from the country's reality, telling supporters: "This is a president who talks about deregulation, even as he regulates. Who talks about lowering taxes, even as he raises them."

Forced by political pressure, Mr Romney released his tax returns on Tuesday, the same day in which Mr Obama called for higher taxes on the wealthy.

The forms revealed the former private equity tycoon earned nearly $22m in 2010 and paid an effective tax rate of about 14%, a lower rate than most other Americans pay.

As part of Mr Obama's larger theme of economic inequality, he made a renewed call for his Buffett Rule - a principle that millionaires should not pay a lower tax rate than typical workers.

The idea is named after billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who famously complained that his secretary pays a higher rate of tax than he does.

Mr Buffett's secretary, Debbie Bosanek, watched Tuesday's speech from the gallery alongside First Lady Michelle Obama.

Pledging no tax increases for those earning under $250,000 (£160,000), Mr Obama said: "If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30% in taxes."

Mitt ROmney's Republican rival Newt Gingrich also hit out at the State of the Union, saying in a statement that Mr Obama "proposed nothing in the way of policy changes that will get us to robust job creation and dramatic economic growth".

While the speech was made with one eye squarely on November's election, Mr Obama also sounded a warning to his conservative opponents in Congress, who has repeatedly opposed his policy agenda since winning control of the House in 2010.

"I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place."

"Now, you can call this class warfare all you want," he added. "But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense."

Republicans have repeatedly rejected Mr Obama's call for higher taxes on the wealthy and accuse him of resorting to class warfare to get elected again.

Mr Obama also proposed:

  • tax reforms to make it less attractive for US companies to transfer jobs overseas
  • allowing homeowners with privately held mortgages to refinance at lower interest rates
  • a new trade enforcement unit dedicated to deterring unfair practices by rival economies, such as China.

A wave of unity swept over the chamber as Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot by a lone gunman in Arizona shortly before the last state of the union, attended during her last week serving as a congresswoman.

Ms Giffords, who announced on Sunday that she would resign to focus on her recovery, was embraced by Mr Obama, amid rousing cheers.

'Pro-poverty'

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, delivering the Republican Party's response to Mr Obama's speech, called it "pro-poverty".

He said: "No feature of the Obama presidency has been sadder than its constant efforts to divide us, to curry favour with some Americans by castigating others."

Opinion polls show Mr Obama's approval numbers languishing beneath 50%, with most Americans disapproving of how he has handled the economy.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionMitch Daniels gives Republican reaction

More than 13 million people are out of work and government debt stands at a record high of $15.2 trillion, up from $10.6 trillion when he took office.

However, surveys also show that Congress is far less popular than Mr Obama, with many blaming Republicans more for the gridlock in Washington.

Partisan warfare on Capitol Hill almost shut down the federal government three times last year.