WASHINGTON – Reviving his populist re-election message, President Barack Obama will press a politically divided Congress to approve more tax increases and fewer spending cuts during a State of the Union address focused on stabilizing the middle class and repairing the still-wobbly economy.
The agenda Obama will outline today before a joint session of Congress will include more money for infrastructure, clean energy technologies and manufacturing jobs, as well as expanding access to early childhood education.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama would outline “his plan to create jobs and grow the middle class” as the nation struggles with persistently high unemployment.
Some of Obama’s job ideas will be repackaged versions of proposals he made during his first term, though aides say there will be some new initiatives too. All of the economic proposals are expected to echo themes from Obama’s re-election campaign, which focused on using increased spending to generate jobs, protecting programs to help the middle class, and bringing down the deficit in part by culling more tax revenue from the wealthiest Americans.
Obama has called for raising more revenue through closing tax breaks and loopholes, but he has not detailed a list of targets. He and his aides often mention as examples of unnecessary tax breaks a benefit for owners of private jets and tax subsidies for oil and gas companies. Such measures are modest, however. Ending the corporate plane and oil and gas breaks would generate about $43 billion in revenue over 10 years.
Republicans have shown little sign of falling in line behind the president as he starts his second term, particularly when it comes to taxes.
“Clearly the president wants more revenue for more government,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in an interview. “He’s gotten all the revenue he’s going to get. Been there, done that.”
The backdrop for Obama’s address will be a March 1 deadline for averting automatic across-the-board spending cuts, known as the sequester. The president wants lawmakers to push that deadline back for a second time to create space for a larger deficit-reduction deal, one he hopes would include a balance of targeted cuts and increased tax revenue. Republicans want to offset the sequester with spending cuts alone.
As he addresses lawmakers and the American people, Obama is expected to say that government entitlement programs should be on the table in deficit reduction talks. But he will also make the case that programs that help the middle class, the poor and the elderly must be protected.
The president’s focus on the economy and deficit reflects the top concerns of many Americans. A Quinnipiac University poll out Monday showed than 35 percent of registered voters are most interested in hearing the president during the State of the Union speech address the economy, more than any other issue. The federal deficit came in second, with 20 percent saying that was the issue they were most interested in hearing Obama discuss.