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Obama Speech Will "Throw Down the Gauntlet" to Congress

Obama Speech Will "Throw Down the Gauntlet" to Congress

By Alexis Simendinger - February 12, 2013

Here’s what we know about President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night: It will include some news -- as in new challenges aimed at Congress -- and enough rhetoric about economic growth and job creation to sound familiar to most Americans who worry about continued 8 percent unemployment.

The president’s speech, described by White House officials as an expansion of January’s inauguration theme of “opportunity for all,” will kick off a week of campaign-style Obama travel designed to pressure GOP lawmakers to bend to the wishes of a majority of Americans -- or risk their election-year wrath.

On Wednesday, the president will visit the Linamar automotive parts manufacturing plant near Ashville, N.C. On Thursday, he will visit the Decatur Recreation Center in Georgia to highlight education and job skills. The two quick trips to Southern states Obama did not win in November are intended to keep the focus on his speech, an annual ritual that attracts a coveted TV audience. (Thirty-eight million people tuned in to watch the address last year, according to the Nielsen Co.)

On Friday, the president will appear in his adopted hometown of Chicago to talk about jobs, the economy and initiatives tied to the Windy City’s recent, tragic spate of gun violence, according to White House officials. The president’s former White House chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, on Monday called for tougher law enforcement and sentencing to curb urban violence, which has not received as much attention nationwide as a series of horrific gun massacres, in particular the December murders in Newtown, Conn.

“A piece of this is the culture,” Emanuel said during a press event. “Part of this is having an honest conversation, given the lion’s share of the victims and the perpetrators are young African-American men. Who better to have that discussion than the president of the United States?”

Advocacy groups, including the Black Youth Project, recently petitioned the White House to have the president visit Chicago and address the complex economic and social underpinnings behind gang violence and urban shootings.

In particular, the group said Obama should discuss “the illegal distribution and loose regulation of arms, the lack of living-wage jobs, the varied shortcomings of public schools, the disproportionate rate of incarceration for youth of color, the circumstances and culture that propel the cycle of violence, and yes, the misguided choices young people sometimes make.”

A White House official, speaking on background to reporters Monday about the State of the Union address, said Obama will “throw down the gauntlet” to Congress to pass laws that could help the middle class succeed, specifically in areas where bipartisan support makes action this year a question of “common sense.”

Whether it’s spending on roads, bridges, ports and communications technology; or requirements for universal background checks for all gun purchasers; or a path to citizenship for more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, the president will argue Tuesday night that lawmakers share enough common ground to select and pass sensible solutions this year.

Obama also will tout the more than 6 million jobs created on his watch, and the nation’s efforts to boost growth, especially when it comes to jobs for those who have been left behind during a slow recovery. Those groups include the long-term unemployed, African-American and Latino workers, and young people without college degrees.

He will argue, as he did during his first term, that federal and private-sector investment in infrastructure, as well as tough trade laws, bolster economic growth and U.S. competitiveness. He will endorse a “lean and efficient government,” as one White House official described it, but he will also advocate “smart” investment priorities that he believes would buoy the economy and keep it from sliding back into recession.

Pointing to the economy’s auto and alternative-energy sectors, the president will again try to persuade Congress that support for manufacturing and clean-energy innovations expand opportunities for American workers. And education and vocational programs that bolster skills, often in partnership with employers eager to hire those trained workers, can assist the unemployed as well as struggling families climb into the middle class, he will say.

The president also will renew his challenge to Congress that it avert across-the-board spending cuts set to occur by law on March 1. He has argued that permitting blunt cuts to take effect will furlough critical federal workers, shrink vital federal services and rein in economic growth, even in the short term.

Obama will repeat his request to congressional Republicans to collaborate with Democrats on a comprehensive, multi-year deficit-reduction deal that mixes increased tax revenues, carefully crafted spending reductions and unspecified entitlement program changes. If they decline to do so, as appeared likely this week, the president is asking them to agree to another short-term postponement of sequestration for several additional months.

The next fiscal hurdle following the sequestration deadline is a potential government shutdown on March 28, when a continuing resolution that keeps the government operating will expire. Lawmakers have suggested that if the across-the-board cuts take effect, the next pressure point on Capitol Hill to find a remedy will be when that federal shutdown looms.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Monday said Obama will have more to say about the rolling series of budget face-offs during his speech to the nation.

“We call on Congress -- as you heard the president do -- to allow itself the time and space to work together towards a broader budget agreement that eliminates the sequester entirely and reduces our deficit further by passing a short-term delay in the sequester in a balanced, responsible way -- without drama, without delay, without inflicting the kind of unnecessary wound on our economy that we should absolutely not be allowing to happen at this time,” he said.

Behind the scenes, the president and his communications team are working with progressive groups, business advocates and Obama supporters to mobilize around a second-term agenda, asking voters and backers to press their lawmakers for action.

Organizing for Action -- the nonprofit, pro-Obama group that morphed out of his re-election team -- told interested State of the Union viewers Monday afternoon to sign up online to join a conference call immediately after the speech -- a call that will include the president.

“He’ll talk about the plan he laid out and how Organizing for Action will play a key role in making it happen,” the organizers said.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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