WASHINGTON: Struggling to generate second-term momentum, President Barack Obama will use Tuesday’s State of the Union address to announce new executive actions on job training and retirement security, while prodding a divided Congress to work harder on expanding economic mobility for middle-class Americans.
Obama’s broad themes — described by the White House as opportunity, action, and optimism — may find some support among Republicans, who also have picked up the inequality mantle in recent months. But as Congress barrels toward the midterm elections, there’s little indication the president will win over the GOP with his legislative policy prescriptions, including a renewed push to increase the minimum wage and expand access to early childhood education.
With its grand traditions and huge prime-time television audience, the State of the Union offers Obama an opportunity to start fresh after a year where his legislative agenda stalled, his signature health-care law floundered and his approval rating tumbled. The president has cast 2014 as a “year of action” but has yet to show the public how he’ll ensure that’s more than just an empty promise.
Previewing the president’s remarks, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “He’ll certainly aim high. Presidents ought to aim high.”
Obama has been tinkering with the speech in his typical fashion, writing out notes long-hand on yellow legal pads and scribbling edits on drafts typed out by his speech-writing team. The White House has heavily promoted the address on social media sites like Instagram, posting photos of Obama working in the Oval Office with lead speechwriter Cody Keenan. Aides are also working on an interactive version of the speech that will run online and feature charts and statistics about the president’s proposals as he’s speaking.
While each of Obama’s speeches to Congress has centered on the economy, the challenges have changed as the nation has moved away from the deep recession.
Obama has struggled to gain traction on Capitol Hill for many of the economic initiatives he supports, including reinstating unemployment insurance for more than one million Americans who have been out of work for a long period of time. With that in mind, White House officials say the president’s speech will include announcements on policies he will undertake on his own. While officials would not detail the specific initiatives, they did say they would center on job training and boosting retirement security.
“When American jobs and livelihoods depend on getting something done, he will not wait for Congress,” White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said in an email to supporters Saturday.
The president is also expected to announce steps to address long-term unemployment, including a plan to generate commitments from the private sector to hire people who have been out of work for extended periods of time. Obama is expected to hold an event at the White House next week focused on that effort.
In keeping with tradition, Obama will travel the country to promote his agenda in the days after the State of the Union address, with stops in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Tennessee.
Republicans have their own ideas for what they’d like to see Obama outline Tuesday. Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester, said the GOP wish list includes “expanding trade, approving the Keystone pipeline and promoting education and skills training for those still struggling in this economy.”