President will also touch on immigration reform, withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and North Korea’s nuclear tests
Barack Obama will use his state of the union address to paint his second presidential term as an opportunity to restore “the basic bargain” which built the US into the world’s greatest economic power by ensuring prosperity for the great bulk of Americans and not the privileged few.
The president will tell Congress that it is this generation’s task to return to a time when US governments represented all the people, according to extracts released by the White House. But he will also pledge that his proposals to bolster employment will not add to the deficit.
“It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love,” the president will tell Congress. “It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation of ours.”
The key to that, the president will say, is a focus on the creation of “good middle-class jobs” – an acknowledgement that even though the economy has picked up over the past four years, many people were forced from well-paid work into minimum-wage jobs.
“That must be the North Star that guides our efforts. Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: how do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?” he will say.
“Tonight, I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago. Let me repeat – nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”
The Republican response to Obama is to be delivered by Florida senator Marco Rubio – a reflection of his party’s attempts to reposition itself as more moderate after its defeat in the presidential election and to win back Latino voters driven away by Republican legislation and rhetoric on immigration.
Rubio intends to challenge Obama’s assertion that it is government policies that decide the fate of America’s middle class.
“This opportunity – to make it to the middle class or beyond no matter where you start out in life – it isn’t bestowed on us from Washington. It comes from a vibrant free economy where people can risk their own money to open a business,” he will say, according to extracts released by Rubio’s office. “Presidents in both parties – from John F Kennedy to Ronald Reagan – have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle class prosperity. But President Obama? He believes it’s the cause of our problems.”
Rubio will note that the economy shrank in the last quarter of 2012 and blame the president’s policies, including tax increases for the wealthy.
“If we can get the economy to grow at just 4% a year, it would create millions of middle class jobs. And it could reduce our deficits by almost $4tn dollars over the next decade. Tax increases can’t do this. Raising taxes won’t create private sector jobs. And there’s no realistic tax increase that could lower our deficits by almost $4tn. That’s why I hope the president will abandon his obsession with raising taxes and instead work with us to achieve real growth in our economy,” Rubio will say.
However, the senator’s remarks risk suggesting to Americans that the Republican party is not changing and remains primarily committed to protecting the rich.
The emphasis on jobs and the economy is expected to be central to Obama’s speech but the administration has indicated he will also touch on a wide range of other ambitions for his second term including comprehensive immigration reform. He intends to announce he will withdraw a little more than half the 66,000 troops the US has in Afghanistan by this time next year as the Pentagon prepares for the final pullout of combat forces by the end of 2014.
Obama is also likely to be pressed into addressing North Korea’s latest nuclear weapons test even as he calls for a sharp drawdown in the number of nuclear warheads, proposing to drop the US arsenal from about 1,700 to 1,000.
The president is also expected to call for a measure of gun control following the massacre of children in Newtown.
The White House and Democratic members of Congress have invited dozens of victims of gun crime or their relatives to attend the speech. Among Michelle Obama’s guests will be the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, 15, who participated in the president’s inaugural parade last month and was then killed in a shooting in Chicago.
Among others attending the speech will be former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was badly wounded in a shooting two years ago.
To counter the move by supporters of more gun control, a Texas congressman, Steve Stockman, has invited the rock musician Ted Nugent to attend. Nugent is an ardent supporter of the National Rifle Association who last year said he would either be “dead or in jail” if Obama were re-elected.
Obama is also expected to tick boxes on the need to combat climate change and speak in favour of clean energy, although there appears to be little chance of the president getting major environmental legislation through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
State of the union addressUnited StatesUS politicsBarack ObamaWashington DCUS CongressUS economyEconomicsUS immigrationUS domestic policyUS foreign policyChris McGrealguardian.co.uk