January 14, 2016 / 6:20 AM / in 2 years

Obama says will focus on criminal justice reform, cancer research

BATON ROUGE, La. (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Thursday that he will focus his final-year legislative efforts on criminal justice reform, an expansion of a tax credit for the working poor, and a push to find medical research breakthroughs.

The three areas are relatively rare areas of common ground between Obama and the Republican-controlled Congress, Obama said during a town hall, part of a push to promote his priorities as attention turns to the race to replace him in the November presidential election.

Obama told a crowd of about 1,000 people at a high school that “I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff to do between now and next year” when his second and final term in office ends.

Obama has tasked his vice president, Joe Biden, with marshalling scientists to “double down” on research into a cure for cancer.

“It’s a good story and it’s not as politically controversial as some issues,” Obama said.

“It probably won’t be cured in my life time, but it might be cured in yours,” he told a 10-year-old girl at the town hall.

The research push will need a “big investment,” he said. Details could come in his Feb. 9 budget proposal.

Obama also said he would like to expand the earned income tax credit, a tax break for poor families, to also help single people - an idea for which Republican Speaker Paul Ryan has expressed support.

He told the crowd that he thinks there is enough bipartisan support to reform mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders.

Obama said he will use his authority to take action where he can - an approach that has enraged Republicans on issues like immigration, environmental regulations, and gun control.

Giving another example of where he wants to use his executive authority in the year ahead, Obama talked about the need to modernize ancient government computer systems.

“That’s what we can do without Congress,” he said.

Obama praised Louisiana’s newly sworn in Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards, who made expanding Medicaid coverage for low-income people his first order of business.

In his Feb. 9 budget, Obama will propose to give the 19 state governments that passed up an earlier offer to expand Medicaid a second chance to opt in, with aid from the federal government, the White House said.

“We’re hoping to encourage more states to do the right thing,” Obama said.

Medicaid expansion was part of the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature health care reform law better known as Obamacare. But some Republican governors opposed expansion as costly and unnecessary.

Additional reporting by Ayesha Rascoe and Susan Heavey; Editing by Nick Macfie, Bernard Orr

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