WASHINGTON — Still hampered by the vulnerable economy, President Barack Obama is using his State of the Union address to appeal for new spending to create jobs while also pledging to cut the federal deficit, in part by raising taxes — issues Republicans are likely to oppose.
Speaking before a divided Congress Tuesday night, Obama also will announce a major reduction in U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, withdrawing 34,000 troops within a year, half the total deployed there. And he’ll sharply rebuke North Korea for defying the international community and launching a nuclear test hours before Obama’s remarks.
But it’s the economy at center stage, as it has been each time Obama has stood before lawmakers and a national TV audience for the annual address. Despite marked improvements since he took office four years ago, the unemployment rate is still hovering around 8 percent and consumer confidence has slipped.
White House officials said Obama would offer the public an outline for job creation, though much of his blueprint will include elements Americans have heard before, including spending more money to boost manufacturing and improve infrastructure. Getting that new spending through Congress appears unlikely, given that it would require support from Republicans who blocked similar measures during Obama’s first term.
The president is expected to be uncompromising in his calls for lawmakers to offset across-the-board spending cuts that are scheduled to begin March 1 with a mix of tax increases and targeted budget cuts.
The president hasn’t detailed where he wants lawmakers to take action, though 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.
That appeal for new revenue is getting stiff-armed by Republicans, who reluctantly agreed at the start of the year to increase tax rates on the wealthiest Americans in exchange for extending Bush-era tax rates for the rest of taxpayers.
“He’s gotten all the revenue he’s going to get,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. “Been there, done that.”
Still, buoyed by re-election, the president and his top aides are confident that Americans back their vision for the economy. Immediately following his speech, Obama will hold a conference call with supporters to urge them to pressure lawmakers to back his agenda. He’ll also seek to rally public support with trips this week to North Carolina, Georgia and Illinois.
Also Tuesday night:
o The president will press Congress to overhaul immigration laws and tackle climate change.
o His wish-list will include expanding early childhood education and making it easier for voters to cast ballots in elections.
o Obama is expected to make an impassioned plea for stricter gun laws, including universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.
First lady Michelle Obama will sit with the parents of a Chicago teenager shot and killed just days after she performed at the president’s inauguration. Twenty-two House members have invited people affected by gun violence, according to Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., who helped with the effort. And Republican Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas says he’s invited rocker Ted Nugent, a long-time gun control opponent who last year said he would end up “dead or in jail” if Obama won re-election.
Though Obama is devoting less time to foreign policy this year, his announcement on the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is highly anticipated and puts the nation on pace to formally finish the protracted war by the end of 2014.
On North Korea, the White House said Obama would make the case that the impoverished nation’s nuclear program has only further isolated it from the international community. North Korea said Tuesday that it successfully detonated a nuclear device in defiance of U.N. warnings.