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Merrimack Valley

January 29, 2014

Obama tells Congress: Help the poor, or I will

WASHINGTON — Seeking to energize his second term, President Barack Obama vowed last night in his State of the Union address to sidestep Congress “whenever and wherever” necessary to narrow economic disparities between America’s rich and poor.

He unveiled an array of modest executive actions to increase the minimum wage for federal contract workers and make it easier for millions of low-income people to save for retirement.

“America does not stand still and neither do I,” Obama declared in his prime-time address before a joint session of Congress and millions of Americans watching on television.

Draped in presidential grandeur, Obama’s hour-long address served as the opening salvo in a midterm election fight for control of Congress that will quickly consume Washington’s attention.

“I thought it was a hopeful, optimistic speech,” said Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell. “It reminded us of how far we’ve come.”

She said there was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm in the room last night

“We created millions of jobs,” she said. “An auto industry that was left for dead is now thriving again. (But) he challenged us to do more.”

Tsongas invited Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera to attend the speech as her guest.

“He touched me, personally,” Rivera said. “When he said a kid from a single mother can become president, for me, that was very touching, because a kid from a single mother can become mayor of Lawrence.”

Another part of the speech that resonated with Rivera was Obama’s commitment to reviving manufacturing. The president announced new commitments from companies to consider hiring the long-term unemployed and the creation of four “manufacturing hubs” where universities and businesses would work together to develop and train workers.

“When you think about bringing back manufacturing to this country, you have to think about places like Lawrence, because we have the infrastructure, we have the trainable work force and we have the need,” Rivera said.

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