President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address, will call on a divided Congress to “reignite” economic growth by focusing on helping the country’s middle-class, and argue that government has a role in shaping prosperity.
“A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs -- that must be the North Star that guides our efforts,” Obama will say tonight, according to excerpts released by the White House. “Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?”
The speech, scheduled for 9 p.m. Washington time, comes at the start of Obama’s second term, affording him a prime-time opportunity to press lawmakers on an ambitious agenda that includes new measures to stimulate the economy and the contentious issues of gun control, immigration and climate change.
The president will offer proposals for spending on infrastructure, clean energy and education, according to an administration official briefed on the speech. As budget battles loom with Republicans, Obama will argue that fostering economic growth is the best strategy to narrow a federal budget gap that has exceeded $1 trillion in each of the last four years. The latest fight centers on a March 1 deadline for $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts to take effect.
“Tonight, I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago,” Obama will say. “Let me repeat: nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”
To avoid the so-called sequester, Obama has called on Congress to pass a short-term measure of spending reductions and revenue increases -- including closing loopholes used by the wealthiest taxpayers. While Obama has signaled flexibility on reducing growth in Social Security and Medicare, White House spokesman Jay Carney yesterday said the president has ruled out raising the age for Medicare eligibility, a move that some Republicans have pushed.
Republicans have said they won’t consider raising more revenue, pointing to the $650 billion tax increase on top earners that Obama won as part of the last budget deal enacted on Jan. 2.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a rising star among Republicans and one of three Hispanics in the chamber, will deliver his party’s response to Obama’s address in Spanish as well as English. It will be the first bilingual rebuttal to the State of the Union speech.
Obama’s efforts to press a divided Congress on new economic measures occur amid fresh concerns about the strength of the U.S. recovery. After growing at a 3.1 percent annual rate in the third quarter, the world’s largest economy unexpectedly shrank in the final three months of the year, registering a 0.1 percent decline.
The median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg is for growth of just 2 percent this year. Real average weekly earnings showed no gain for the year ended in December, and the unemployment rate in January rose to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent the month before.
“It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth -- a rising, thriving middle class,” Obama will say. “It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country -- the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.”
As Obama discusses the importance of manufacturing and boosting U.S. competitiveness on a global scale, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook will be attending the speech as one of the guests of first lady Michelle Obama.
Other guests include Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton and Nathaniel A. Pendleton Sr., whose daughter, 15-year-old Hadiya, was gunned down in Chicago just days after she performed with her high-school band at Obama’s inauguration.
While administration officials have said the speech will focus primarily on economic matters, Obama will devote a portion to his plans to drawdown the war in Afghanistan.
He’ll announce that about 34,000 U.S. troops will be home from Afghanistan by this time next year, cutting the military presence there by about half. The number of military personnel will continue to be reduced through the end of 2014 as Afghans take full responsibility for their security and the U.S. role in the war comes to an end, administration official said today.