DENVER – President Barack Obama during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night placed a spotlight on the middle class, highlighting a familiar Democratic theme that has once again surfaced in Colorado.
As Democrats look toward 2016 following a blistering election season, in which Republicans took control of both the U.S. and Colorado senates, the left has placed a renewed focus on Middle America.
The message they are pushing is simple: Democrats want breaks for the working class, while Republicans have focused too much on the wealthiest Americans.
Obama over the weekend announced a plan to provide a $500 tax credit for married couples who each hold jobs. During his address Tuesday, he took the plan a step further, calling for reforms to the nation’s tax code by placing more of a burden on the rich.
The president also called for assistance for child care and providing free community college. He suggested that it is time to provide paid sick leave and raise the minimum wage.
“So the verdict is clear,” Obama said during remarks on Tuesday. “Middle-class economics works. Expanding opportunity works. And these policies will continue to work, as long as politics don’t get in the way.”
Obama invited a Denver woman, Carolyn Reed, to sit in the first lady’s box during the address. Reed wrote to the president about how she expanded her Silver Mine Subs shop in Denver thanks to a loan from the Small Business Administration. Reed gave hourly employees a raise to $10.10, which played into Obama’s message of how the middle class can help the economy grow.
Democrats have touted a similar theme in Colorado. Party leaders repeatedly pointed to the middle class during opening day remarks at the Capitol, suggesting it is their top priority. Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, made several mentions of the middle class during his State of the State address last week.
But newly elected U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Yuma, said in a video response that under Democratic leadership the middle class has not seen enough progress.
“Measures like labor force participation and workers hourly earnings are either flat or going in the wrong direction, indicating that we still have a long ways to go until the middle class feels like there’s a recovery,” Gardner said.
He suggested that Obama should do more to support the natural-gas and oil industry.
“Rather than trying to slow down American energy production, we should be doing even more to encourage it,” Gardner said.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, took issue with the president’s confident, almost sassy, victory declaration. Obama pointed to the fastest-growing economy since 1999, stating, “Tonight, we turn the page ... The state of the union is strong.”
But Tipton said economic challenges still face rural Southwest Colorado, where job growth has lagged the state and nation. He recommended a simpler tax code, while decreasing regulations.
“We are seeing communities that are struggling and people that want to be able to get back to work, and we need to be able to create those opportunities where we are not stifling business development, but encouraging it,” Tipton told The Durango Herald following the president’s remarks.
Colorado’s senior U.S. senator, Michael Bennet, a Democrat, looked forward to bipartisan cooperation to help the middle class.
“ There are bipartisan steps we can take to strengthen our economy and make the American dream more achievable,” he said. “There is consensus in both parties that our roads, bridges, dams, and overall infrastructure need to be repaired and upgraded. We should get to work on that.”
Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call called Obama’s address “lip service,” stating that millions of Americans are still struggling.
“President Obama’s plan to increase spending, raise taxes, oppose the responsible development of oil and gas, and increase the regulatory burden on hardworking Americans will derail our fragile recovery,” Call said.
But Hickenlooper said the president hit close to home by placing a focus on the middle class.
“That strategy has been at the cornerstone of our economic blueprint for Colorado throughout the last four years,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “And as I mentioned in our State of the State just a few days ago, in Colorado, we will remain relentlessly committed to workforce development, education and job training.”
email@example.com. Michael Cipriano is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.