Obama to focus on economy in State of the Union speech
Washington - US President Barack Obama is to refocus his efforts on jump-starting the economy in his State of the Union address at the US Capitol as he lays out more specifics about his plans for his second term in office.
The annual address, which airs Tuesday during key evening viewing and is among the most closely watched of presidential speeches each year, comes less than a month after Obama began his second term with an inaugural speech that laid out a sweeping liberal agenda -highlighting gay rights, climate change and immigration, but stopping short of discussing many policy specifics.
White House spokesman Jay Carney called the two speeches "two acts in the same play" and downplayed characterizations that the State of the Union marks a shift in tone or topic. Obama has in recent weeks laid out plans for gun control and immigration reform.
"There’s no pivot here," Carney said Monday, noting Obama’s focus since he first ran for president has been on "what we need to do to make our economy work for the middle class ... to give average Americans the opportunities they need to help this economy grow and to help it be as strong and dominant in the 21st century as it was in the 20th." US voters re-elected Obama in November elections dominated by worries about a still fragile economy. Obama argued that he had kept the country out of a deeper recession but that more work remained to be done.
Obama must work quickly to advance his agenda before Congress enters election campaigns in 2014 and talk gets serious about who will succeed him in 2016.
"Second terms are tough and you’ve got to strike when the iron ishot," said Allan Lichtman, an American University professor. "You’ve got to strike when you have that election mandate, you have the attention of the American people." Obama’s success will depend partially on whether he can get the American people to pressure members of Congress, where Republicans control the lower House of Representatives and are likely to block much of his agenda, Lichtman said.
The White House faces economic headwinds, with growth contractingby an annualized 0.1 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2012 following 3.1 per cent growth in the third quarter.
Obama already notched one victory - instituting higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans - as part of a deal to avert the austerity measures known as the fiscal cliff.
That deal however pushed off harsh across-the-board spending cuts, now due to take effect in March. Obama has pushed Congress to be more balanced in its cuts, saying the "result could be a huge blow to middle-class families and our economy as a whole." Republicans however are sharply focussed on deficit reduction, with some saying they might allow the cuts to take effect despite their affect on the military, which the party has long sought to prevent.
Obama has also argued that deficit reduction measures must not have too harsh an impact on the poor, elderly or students.
The president has already called for comprehensive immigration reform, a call that has attracted backing by a bipartisan group of senators as Republicans seek to appeal to crucial Latino voters who deserted them in November.
Obama has put forward an aggressive gun control agenda, calling for a ban on sales of assault weapons and high-capacity clips, in the wake of a school massacre that killed 20 children last year.
Foreign policy is expected to take a back seat in the address, even as Obama works to wind down the war in Afghanistan and faces questions about how to deal with conflicts in Syria and a changing Middle East.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, considered a rising star in the party with appeal both as the son of Cuban immigrants and as younger voice, will deliver the centre-right party’s rebuttal to Obama’s State of the Union address.
Obama plans to travel to North Carolina, Georgia and Illinois on Wednesday and Thursday to push his proposals to the American public.