Obama’s goal: Get agenda moving, people believingWASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will devote most of his first State of the Union address on Wednesday to fixing an economy that has sapped the nation’s spirits and eroded his standing, with calls for tax cuts for small businesses and more restraint from a government that keeps piling up debt.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will devote most of his first State of the Union address on Wednesday to fixing an economy that has sapped the nation’s spirits and eroded his standing, with calls for tax cuts for small businesses and more restraint from a government that keeps piling up debt.
Obama will start on the economy and spend about two-thirds of his prime-time speech on that topic, the one most on the minds of Americans. His goal is to show a dissatisfied nation in plainspoken and specific terms that he understands their frustration and their struggles, and that his vast agenda is in touch with what they need.
The foreign policy section of his speech will be largely devoid of new policy initiatives. He will give an update on the escalating war in Afghanistan and emphasize looming issues, including the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq and a nuclear security summit in Washington.
The president will seek a freeze on most domestic spending for three years, yet propose a 6.2 percent increase in spending on education, an investment in a popular arena that he sees as vital to an economic recovery. He will offer a highly anticipated way forward on salvaging health care reform, take responsibility for mistakes in his first year and follow up his speech with a dash to Florida to announce $8 billion in awards for high-speed rail.
A smiling Obama entered the Oval Office hours before his speech on Wednesday in a moment arranged for photographers. When asked what his message to the nation will be about health care, the embattled centerpiece of his domestic agenda, Obama said only: “It’s a good one.”
The White House said Obama will make clear that his commitment to a comprehensive health care bill is as strong as it was when he gave a speech about it to the nation in September. But his loss of a 60-vote, filibuster-proof bloc in the Senate since then has weakened his hand considerably.
Facing a divided Congress and poll numbers that show him to be a politically polarizing leader, Obama needs to take command of the debate. The same leader who rode a tide of voter frustration into office with his “yes we can” theme now is getting smacked by it himself. Change is working against him.
His goal: Get the economy, the confidence of voters and his own presidency on surer footing.
One day after the Senate rejected his plans to create a bipartisan task force to tackle the federal deficit, Obama will announce that he’s creating a similar panel by executive order. The goal of the panel — likely to be composed of 10 Democrats and eight Republicans — would be to make recommendations to Congress for reducing the deficit, though the weakness of such a commission is that there’s no way to guarantee the recommendations will be passed.
For all the new wrinkles he offers, Obama’s moment will be measured largely by how well he reconnects with the public.
“In this political environment, what I haven’t always been successful at doing is breaking through the noise and speaking directly to the American people,” Obama conceded to an interviewer last week. This is his chance — speeches like this one can draw 30 million to 50 million viewers, sometimes more.
“The president is going to explain why he thinks the American people are angry,” Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said Wednesday morning.
The guest list provides a rough outline of the story Obama wants to tell. Sitting with first lady Michelle Obama in an elevated box overlooking the floor of the House will be people with stories of success and struggles, from immigrants who started businesses to families having a hard time making ends meet.
The agenda itself will have a familiar ring.
Obama says he will not retreat from the big issues he campaigned on and tried to get done in his first year, when political momentum was strong. He will push for health care, regulation of Wall Street, energy and immigration reform, and continue the global fight against terrorists.
He will ask Congress for help in blunting the impact of a Supreme Court decision that gives corporations much more freedom to influence elections through political advertising. Obama also will renew his call for immigration reform, a volatile issue once considered a first-year priority but lately sent to the back burner.
Obama will try to more sharply cast his messages to address people’s daily concerns. That starts with creating more jobs at a time of 10 percent unemployment. Polls show that he remains a well-liked figure, but that his overall approval rating and grades for handling issues like the economy have dropped significantly.
A new Gallup Poll finds that Obama is the most politically polarizing president in recent history, with 88 percent of Democrats approving of his job performance while just 23 percent of Republicans do. He has the twin political challenges of giving Democratic lawmakers an agenda they can rally around in this midterm election year, yet showing emboldened Republicans and a skeptical public that he is serious about reversing Washington’s off-putting partisanship.