CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
Jan. 23, 2012 – 10:44 p.m.
Obama Speech Expected to Focus on Jobs
By Joseph J. Schatz, CQ Staff
President Obama will try to set the tone, if not dictate the agenda, for the election year legislative debate when he delivers his third State of the Union address Tuesday night.
Facing a difficult re-election campaign and a Congress as bitterly divided as it was a year ago when Republicans took over the House, Obama is expected to renew his case for a familiar mix of policies aimed at promoting manufacturing and green-energy jobs, as well as training for workers.
That’s a far cry from the ambitious agenda with which Obama began his presidency — or even the trade deals and tax changes he promoted when he appeared before the joint session last year.
But the White House already has conceded that it does not expect Congress to clear much of the administration’s agenda this year. So Obama has signaled that he intends to focus on economic fairness — an issue the president is now referring to as “American values.”
Democrats tested that theme during the year-end debate over extending the Social Security payroll tax reduction, and they are expected to bring it into play if House Republicans resist a longer-term extension of the tax break that Obama first signed into law in December 2010 (PL 111-312).
With the payroll tax break set to expire Feb. 29 under the short-term extension enacted in December (PL 112-78), lawmakers will begin this week to negotiate a deal on a package extending through the rest of the year the payroll tax cut, long-term unemployment benefits and a Medicare fix that prevents cuts in payments to doctors.
As a result of the payroll tax debate — during which Senate Republicans split from their counterparts across the Capitol — the GOP majority in the House begins the new session no less hostile toward Obama and his agenda, but in a slightly more defensive posture than last year.
Election year politics will no doubt tempt Republican lawmakers to distance themselves from the president’s agenda Tuesday night, but they probably will try to avoid a confrontational atmosphere — cognizant of their own dismal poll numbers and a public perception that there is already too much bickering in Washington.
Obama drew a skeptical but subdued reaction a year ago when he called for the nation to “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build” the rest of the world.
As they did last year, many Democratic and Republican lawmakers plan to observe bipartisan seating arrangements in the House chamber Tuesday night, rather than respecting the center aisle that has traditionally divided the State of the Union audience by party.
Obama and lawmakers are sure to pay bipartisan tribute to Arizona Democratic Rep.
Focus on the Economy
In a video message to supporters over the weekend, Obama said that his speech will focus on “rebuilding an economy where hard work pays off and responsibility is rewarded and an America where everybody gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everybody plays by the same set of rules.”
Obama Speech Expected to Focus on Jobs
The president has been particularly explicit about his desire to make upper-income taxpayers — specifically those making at least $1 million a year — pay more than they do now. Republicans have stoutly and successfully opposed that kind of deficit reduction, but the issue has gained additional resonance given recent discussion of wealthy GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney’s statement that he has paid a relatively low effective tax rate of about 15 percent.
Republicans see Obama’s biggest political vulnerability as the sluggish economic recovery and slow rate of job creation. But the president wants credit, not blame, for his economic policies, and his address is likely to focus heavily on pocketbook issues.
A poll released Monday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 86 percent of respondents said strengthening the economy should be a top priority for the president and Congress, and 82 percent called job creation a top priority.
None of the other 20 issues Pew asked about came close to registering those levels of concern.
With neither party in the mood to undertake an overhaul of the tax code before the November elections — and the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts due to expire at the end of the year, after the elections — it remained unclear Monday whether Obama plans to go beyond his previous tax proposals Tuesday night.
Beyond fiscal issues, Obama also is asking Congress for authority to consolidate six agencies that deal with exports, although that proposal faces criticism from allies of the U.S. Trade Representative’s office in both parties.
And Obama is likely to mention the Justice Department’s draft $25 billion mortgage settlement with major banks, under which about 750,000 borrowers would get checks for $1,800. The agreement also would change foreclosure practices and make it easier for borrowers at risk of losing their homes to change their loans.
Congressional Republicans have a much different economic agenda that includes rolling back regulations, a tax overhaul, spending cuts and savings in entitlement programs.
“I’ve read a lot about what the president’s going to talk about Tuesday night, and it sounds to me like the same old policies that we’ve seen: more spending, higher taxes, more regulations,” Boehner said. “The same policies that haven’t helped our economy, they’ve made it worse. And if that’s what the president’s going to talk about Tuesday night, I think it’s pathetic.”
In a move that has intrigued political observers, Indiana Gov.
The race for the GOP presidential nomination appears far from settled, and Daniels was considered a leading prospect until he took himself out of consideration last year.