Obama to revive populist message in Tuesday speech

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 Tuesday 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.

In keeping with that approach, the White House said Monday that Obama would not consider increasing the Medicare eligibility age as a way to reduce spending.

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 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.

The poll also suggested that the slow but steady economic gains throughout Obama’s first term may not be trickling down to many Americans. More than 50 percent of registered voters said they thought the economy was still in a recession and 79 percent described the economy as “not so good” or “poor.”

Obama will also press Congress to support his proposals for overhauling the nation’s immigration laws and tighten gun measures, though his remarks on both issues are expected to break little new ground and largely reflect his previous statements.

Still, the White House and some lawmakers will aim to use the atmospherics of the annual address to Congress to rally support for stricter gun laws.

Some lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, are bringing victims of gun violence and their families as their guests Tuesday. And Michelle Obama will be sitting with the parents of slain 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, the Chicago teenager killed by gunfire days after performing in the inaugural parade.

Foreign policy will take a backseat to domestic issues, though Obama may discuss next steps for drawing down U.S. troops from Afghanistan and reducing the nation’s nuclear stockpile.

The administration has developed a consensus around cutting down to between 1,000 and 1,100 deployed weapons. While Obama is not expected to outline a specific number during his address, the administration wants to emphasize that it wants to work with Russia on mutually supporting moves toward weapons reductions below the ceiling of 1,550 set in the New START accord that took effect in 2011. The State Department’s point person on nuclear arms control, Rose Gottemoeller, is in Moscow this week to consult on possible next steps.

The president will follow up his State of the Union address with three days of travel around the country. He’ll start Wednesday in Asheville, N.C., where he’ll visit Linamar Corp., a supplier of engine and transmission components that has expanded its manufacturing operations.

Obama is expected to reiterate his calls for revitalizing the U.S. manufacturing sector, perhaps reviving his campaign pledge to create 1 million new manufacturing jobs during his second term. Following a sluggish 2012, manufacturing grew at a faster pace last month, driven by an increase in new orders and more hiring at factories.

On Thursday, Obama will press for expanded early childhood education, perhaps going so far as to call for universal pre-school, when he travels to the Atlanta area. He’ll speak at the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center, which offers programs for infant, toddler, preschool, and pre-kindergarten students.

The president will also speak about the economy and gun violence Friday in his hometown of Chicago.

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