In his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, U.S. President Barack Obama will risk the ire of Republicans by telling the nation the government needs to spend more money to restore economic prosperity.
President Obama will spend much of his fifth State of the Union address outlining several new initiatives aimed at bringing relief to middle-class Americans hard hit by the Great Recession, White House officials have told several major news organizations.
"Our single biggest remaining challenge is to get our economy in a place where the middle class is feeling less squeezed, where incomes sustain families," a senior administration official who had seen a draft of the speech told The Washington Post.
But while the U.S. economy will be the overriding theme of President Obama's State of the Union speech, many of the proposals will not coincidentally advance many of the president's other favorite issues, such as climate change and education.
According to those who have seen the speech, President Obama is expected to announce initiatives in education, infrastructure, clean energy and manufacturing. White House officials told The New York Times that the cost of these proposals would be offset by savings elsewhere in the budget – or new revenues.
Tailoring the State of the Union to Public Opinion
The president will try to wrap all of these issues in an economic package in order to benefit from the public's overwhelming focus on jobs and the economy.
In a recent Pew Research poll, 86% of respondents said "strengthening the economy" should be a 2013 priority for Washington. The next two issues were "improving the job situation" (79%) and "reducing the budget deficit" (72%).
Only 37% cited "strengthening gun laws" as a priority, and just 39% cited "dealing with illegal immigration."
Those issues remain White House priorities and will appear in the State of the Union, but the lack of public enthusiasm for them calls for a more creative approach.
The State of the Union will cleverly weave the president's wide-ranging agenda into a message on the economy that tells the average American what he wants to hear.
For example, investing in clean energy will be described as vital for job creation. Likewise, the president will tell us dealing with immigration will help boost economic growth. Spending on education will help give workers the skills they need to be competitive in a global economy.
President Obama gave Democratic House members a taste of this strategy when he spoke to them at a retreat last week.
"My governing philosophy and my interest in public service grows out of how we make that union more perfect for more people day in, day out," the president said. "And that starts with an economy that works for everybody…. Our economy grows when everybody is getting a fair shot, and everybody is getting a fair shake, and everybody is playing by the same rules."
State of the Union Speech: GOP Won't Be Pleased
Meanwhile, President Obama will try to put more pressure on recalcitrant Republicans by reminding them that his re-election was an endorsement by U.S. voters of his policies not just on the economy, but immigration, gun control, gay marriage and climate change.
"There are a surprising number of Republicans who seem to think that elections don't matter, who are ready to block widely popular agenda items that the American people voted for in November," former Obama campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt told Politico.
Still, it's unlikely many Republicans will be swayed by the speech.
In particular, any proposals that call for new spending, regardless of how President Obama says he will pay for them, will get an icy reception from House Republicans, who have fought him on budget issues for much of the past two years.
Having just agreed to some tax increases for the wealthy at the beginning of January, and an extension of the debt ceiling until mid-May, House Republicans now want to talk about spending cuts.
"He just got his tax hike on the wealthy, and you can't in this town every three months raise taxes. Again, every time, that's his response," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-VA, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. "We've got a spending problem, everybody knows it."
The official Republican response to the State of the Union address has been entrusted to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who will speak after the president. Insiders have said Rubio will be "tough" on President Obama.
Rubio will have his hands full if the president successfully couches his liberal goals in terms of helping the economy.
And yet President Obama in his speech may offer GOP lawmakers some sort of political escape hatch, particularly on the looming budget battle.
A White House official asked by Politico about how the president's approach to this year's State of the Union differs from previous years responded by quoting Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu:
"Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across."
>>Or check out our coverage of last year's SOTU address: Five Things Obama Didn't Want You to Hear in His State of the Union.
>>And don't miss The 7 Biggest Obamacare Lies.
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