Facing the challenge of a divided Congress and a still-recovering economy, President Obama will deliver a State of the Union address Tuesday night that lays out a plan for “winning the future,” according to a Democratic source with knowledge of White House talking points. The speech will focus on strengthening the nation’s ability to compete in a changing world, the source said. “The president will lay out a plan to win the future by out-innovating, out-educating and out-building the rest of the world,” said the White House talking points. “He will talk about the need to take responsibility for our deficits, by investing only in what makes America stronger and cutting what doesn’t, and reforming our government so that it’s leaner and smarter for the 21st century.”
The annual speech to Congress, a nationally televised event that is typically considered the president’s biggest address of the year, brings together the three branches of government on Capitol Hill for an assessment of where America stands and where it is heading. This year’s State of the Union, Obama’s second, comes after his Democratic Party lost its House majority and had its Senate majority decreased in the November elections. Now facing a divided Congress after two years of Democratic control, Obama has signaled a shift to the political center intended to ease the partisan divide in Washington and win back some of the independent support that helped elect him in 2008.
Republicans, however, doubt Obama will change from what they characterize as a big-government ideology. They call for immediate and significant spending cuts to address growing federal debt and already have challenged Obama’s expected push for increased spending in areas the president considers vital for future growth. “Any time they want to spend, they call it investment,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told “Fox News Sunday,” adding: “We’ll take a look at his recommendations, we always do. But this is not a time to be looking at pumping up government spending in many areas.”
However, signs of disunity on the right between Tea Party conservatives seeking extreme spending cuts and more moderate Republicans are evident, so much so that there will be two GOP responses to the State of the Union. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, will deliver the official Republican response, while Tea Party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, will provide her own response on the Tea Party Express website. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs insisted Monday that Obama is ready to tackle the federal deficit and spending issues cited by Republicans while maintaining the ability of the United States to grow and compete globally.
“I think you’re going to have a very long and a very serious conversation in this town over the course of the next year to two years about how we get our fiscal house in order,” Gibbs told reporters, later adding: “This is not about whether or not we’re going to do this, it’s about how we’re going to do this.”
The White House talking points sought to balance the need for deficit reduction and keeping America competitive by investing in education, clean energy, infrastructure and other areas necessary for growth.
“The most important contest we face today is not between Democrats and Republicans,” the document said. “It’s America’s contest with competitors across the globe for the jobs and industries of our time. It’s about winning the future.” Obama will emphasize the nation’s improved economic conditions today compared with when he took office, but also acknowledge continued high unemployment and stagnant or shrinking wages that need to be addressed, according to the document. In addition, the talking points said Obama “will discuss how we can continue to keep America safe and advance our interests around the world.”
“We face big challenges and fixing them will require a lot of hard work and sacrifice from everyone — Democrats, Republicans and independents,” the document continued. “But if we’re willing to come together and find common ground on these issues, then we can win the future.” The speech is one of the major Washington events of the year, full of political pageantry that includes Obama’s formal introduction by the House sergeant at arms. Military generals, Supreme Court justices and other luminaries attend.
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