Barack Obama Is Going To Make A Huge Pivot In Tonight's State Of The Union

obama state of the union

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President Barack Obama will pivot back to the economy and jobs during his State of the Union Tuesday, shifting away from the progressive social agenda that he pushed in his second inaugural address. Senior White House officials say that the Obama will use the State of the Union to “outline his plans to create jobs and grow the middle class,” including investments in manufacturing, clean energy, education, and infrastructure. White House aides tell reporters that Obama will also call on Congress to agree to a “grand bargain” to avert the upcoming sequester. 

Tuesday’s speech comes as polls indicate Obama’s post-election honeymoon is already waning among voters. A new Quinnipiac poll released last week found that the President’s approval rating has fallen to 46 per cent, down 12 points from December. 

Democratic strategists quietly fret that the drop is due, in part, to Obama’s second-term emphasis on his social policy priorities, including immigration reform and gun control. A recent Pew survey found that the economy, jobs, and the deficit remain the top three issues among voters, while immigration and gun laws trail far behind on the list of concerns.   

Still, Obama goes into Tuesday’s speech with the upper-hand over Republicans, who are still struggling to recover from last year’s electoral and legislative defeats. The State of the Union gives the President the opportunity to refocus his agenda and lay out an aggressive economic plan that will give him momentum going into the upcoming budget battles with Congress.

Here’s what he’s expected to talk about tonight: 

1. The Economy and Jobs: Obama gave a preview of his State of the Union speech to House Democrats at their retreat in Virginia last week, saying that his second-term agenda “starts with an economy that works for everybody”: 

“That means that what you’ll hear from me next week, I’m going to be talking about making sure that we’re focused on job creation here in the United States of America,” Obama said. “It means that we’re focused on education and that every young person is equipped with the skills they need to compete in the 21st century. It means that we’ve got an energy agenda that can make us less dependent on foreign oil, but also that we’re cultivating the kind of clean energy strategy that will maintain our leadership well into the future. It means that we’re going to talk about, yes, deficits and taxes and sequesters and potential government shutdowns and debt ceiling.”  

2. The Sequester: A big part of Obama’s speech will be devoted to framing the sequester, the across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take effect March 1. Politico’s Glenn Thrush reports that Obama will forgo calls for bipartisan compromise in favour of an aggressive approach that yields little to House Republicans. 

He is expected to reiterate calls for another “grand bargain” on the sequester, one that includes spending cuts and revenue increases, primarily through closing tax loopholes and deductions. Obama is also expected to call on Congress to end “governing by crisis,” and accuse Republicans of slowing down the economy with legislative gridlock.  

3. The Deficit: After largely avoiding the issue in his second inaugural speech, Obama is expected to call on Congress to reduce the deficit in a “balanced” way that doesn’t unfairly burden the middle class.

But urgency about the debt crisis has faded — even among Republicans — so it is unlikely that Obama will go into specifics about how he wants to reduce the deficit. 

4. Entitlement Reforms: Obama is also expected to call for entitlement reforms as part of his “grand bargain” on the sequester. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney gave some clues on this topic Monday, telling reporters that the President is still open to reforming Medicare benefits with the chained CPI, but that raising the retirement age above 65 is no longer on the table. 

5. Immigration Reform/Climate Change: Although Obama highlighted these domestic priorities in his inaugural address, White House officials say the State of the Union will put less emphasis on social policy. Instead, Obama will talk about immigration reform and climate change within the broader context of middle class opportunity and job growth. 

6. Nuclear Proliferation and National Security: The New York Times reported Monday that Obama will use his State of the Union address to restate his plans for drawing down the U.S. nuclear arsenal, one of his administration’s signature national security goals. In the wake of North Korea’s nuclear test Tuesday, however, the White House may dial back the non-proliferation rhetoric in favour of a more hawkish national security stance. 

While Obama is expected to devote most of his speech to domestic economic policy, he may also touch on cybersecurity, previewing the executive order he plans to sign on Wednesday that is aimed at combating cyber attacks on U.S. companies and critical infrastructure. 

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