Obama looks to grab campaign narrative
WASHINGTON PRESIDENT Barack Obama will pitch new initiatives on jobs, taxes and housing in an election-year State of the Union address on Tuesday, making a sweeping case for a second term despite the slow US economic recovery and high jobless rate.
Framed in what is expected to be a starkly populist speech, most of Obama’s proposals will face stiff Republican resistance, limiting the chance of headway in a divided Congress before the November 6 general election.
But the White House hopes Obama can gain enough traction with voters to help restore faith in his economic leadership as the Democratic president defends himself against escalating attacks by Republican candidates vying to face him on the November ballot.
When he stands before a joint session of Congress at 9 pm EST (0200 GMT on Wednesday), Obama is expected to push tax breaks for bringing manufacturing jobs home from overseas, ideas to help the troubled home-mortgage market and incentives for alternative energy development, people familiar with the speech say.
He is also likely to call again for higher taxes on the wealthy - despite consistent Republican opposition - and speak of further pressure on China over its currency and trade practices.
While these initiatives do not offer a quick fix for high unemployment that threatens Obama’s re-election prospects, his speech will be a chance to turn up the heat on an unpopular Congress and take control of the campaign narrative.
It will also be a high-profile platform for Obama to draw contrasts with his Republican challengers, casting himself as champion of the middle class while painting them as the party beholden to the rich.
“We can go in two directions,” Obama said in a video preview of his third State of the Union speech. “One is towards less opportunity and less fairness. Or we can fight for where I think we need to go: building an economy that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few.” The White House hopes that argument will be buttressed even before Obama speaks.
Republicans accuse Obama of being an old-fashioned tax-and-spend liberal whose policies have hurt the US economy and charge that he is playing the politics of envy whereas what Americans really care about is jobs.
Polls show that most Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy, and his approval numbers have languished below 50 percent. But surveys show Congress far less popular, with many blaming Republicans more for the gridlock in Washington.
When Obama takes the podium in the Republicancontrolled House of Representatives, he will be speaking to his biggest television audience until he addresses the Democratic convention in September.
Nearly 43 million people watched his 2011 address.
Though he has built his reelection effort around a strategy of blaming Republicans for obstructing economic recovery, he faces the challenge of striking a balance in the speech between partisan rhetoric and calls for cooperation across party lines. If he goes too hard, he risks alienating independent voters.