State of the Union: Obama stresses fairness

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012.
Pool,AP Photo/Saul Loeb

President Obama hit hard on taxes during his State of the Union address last night -- telling Congress not everyone's paying their fair share.

By calling this a make-or-break moment for the middle class and calling for legislation that doesn't have a prayer of passing this Congress, the president was, in effect, making the opening argument of his re-election campaign.

He said the state of the union is getting stronger, but declared the American dream in danger.

"The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive," Mr. Obama declared.

Complete coverage: State of the Union address

For the first time, the president put a number on what he calls "the Buffett rule" -- billionaire investor Warren Buffett's belief that his secretary, who was seated in the first lady's box, shouldn't be paying a higher tax rate than he does.

"Tax reform should follow 'the Buffett rule," Mr. Obama said. "If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes. ... Now, you can call this class warfare all you want, but asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense."

That call could come up often on the campaign trail, particularly if the president's opponent is multimillionaire Mitt Romney, whose just-revealed tax returns show him paying an effective tax rate of about 14 percent.

"It's time," Mr. Obama said, "o apply the same rules from top to bottom: no bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts."

As he called for an agenda to help innovation, Laurene Jobs, widow of Steve Jobs, watched from the first lady's box. Mr. Obama also proposed help for refinancing mortgages, encouraging energy exploration, repairing the nation's infrastructure, and rewarding good teachers.

And he asked for changes in the way Washington does business, saying, "I've talked tonight about the deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street, but the divide between this city and the rest of the country is at least as bad -- and it seems to get worse every year."

Ind. Gov. Mitch Daniels, the man many Republicans hoped would run for president, gave his party's response to the president's speech.

"No feature of the Obama presidency has been sadder than its constant efforts to divide us, to curry favor with some Americans by castigating others," Daniels said. ... If we fail to shift to a pro-jobs, pro-growth economic policy, there will never be enough public revenue for our safety net, national security, or whatever size government we decide to have."

Watch Bill Plante's full report in the video player above.

  • Bill Plante

    Bill Plante is a CBS News Senior White House Correspondent