(Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama offered modest steps to chip away at the country’s economic and social challenges in a State of the Union address that reflected the limits imposed on him by a divided Congress.

Striking a defiant tone, Obama promised to take executive action to steer around Republican opposition to his agenda where he can. Among the steps he outlined are raising the minimum wage to $10.10 for future federal contract workers and creating a retirement savings program for people whose employers don’t offer a 401(k) plan.

“America does not stand still -- and neither will I,” he told a joint session of Congress. “So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

In all, the president announced a dozen actions using presidential authority that he said would push against economic forces that have left lower- and middle-income Americans still struggling to recover from the worst recession in more than seven decades.

Enlisting companies

He also said he’s enlisting companies to help, including Apple Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. to assist in expanding broadband in schools, and to boost hiring of the long-term unemployed. “We have pledged to contribute MacBooks, iPads, software and our expertise to support the ConnectED project,” said Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet.

Obama appealed for cooperation from the Congress on other priorities, including immigration, corporate taxes, trade and transportation.

He also asked lawmakers to back an expansion of the earned income tax credit to aid the working poor, saying he agreed with Republicans including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, seen as a future presidential contender, who say the existing credit doesn’t do enough for childless workers.

Rubio after the speech said that Obama “missed on opportunity” to work with Congress. “We need a real opportunity agenda that helps people seize the enormous potential that the coming years hold.”

Obama focused his remarks largely on Americans aspiring to the middle class, and on outreach to business.

“After four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better,” Obama said in the text. “But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened.”

Republican response

In the official Republican response, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers said her party offered a different vision: “One that empowers you, not the government. It’s one that champions free markets — and trusts people to make their own decisions, not a government that decides for you.”

The Washington Republican also criticized Obama’s record on the economy and the president’s health care law.

The president avoided direct confrontation with Republicans on issues that hold potential for bipartisan agreement this year, including immigration and extending long-term unemployment (USURTOT) benefits.

“Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted,” he said of immigration legislation. “I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same.” He framed the need for an immigration overhaul in the context of economic growth, and refrained from repeating his previous insistence that legislation should create a path to citizenship for 12 million undocumented residents.

Obama said he supports lowering the corporate tax rate and curtailing tax breaks, then using any one-time revenue that change generates to build bridges, transit and other infrastructure. That plan is stalled in Congress, stymied by a partisan dispute over whether wealthy individuals should pay more.

Obamacare defense

At the same time, Obama defended his signature domestic policy achievement — an expansion of health care coverage known as the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare — against Republican calls for repeal.

“I don’t expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of the law,” Obama said. “But let’s not have another forty-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans.”

He used the speech to call on Americans to sign up for coverage and encourage others to sign up ahead of a March 31 enrollment deadline. “Moms, get on your kids to sign up,” he said. “Kids, call your mom and walk her through the application.”

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