Expect high drama on Capitol Hill tonight when President Obama delivers his first State of the Union address and tries to reassure an increasingly skeptical U.S. public that his agenda is the right solution to fix the nation's economic woes.
A popular president, Obama has spent a year's worth of political capital on what has turned out to be an unpopular agenda. Tonight's address offers a chance for him to outline what he will do in his second year to get the economy back on track and reconnect with Americans.
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With Republican victories in recent elections in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts -- three states Obama won in the 2008 presidential election -- the president's agenda has, to a degree, been rebuked by the voters.
"The president's going to explain why he thinks the American people are angry and frustrated," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said on "Good Morning America" today.
"Many of the same factors that led Sen. [Scott] Brown to become a senator from Massachusetts led Barack Obama to become president. Now, we've got to deal with those angers and frustrations by putting people back to work, by demonstrating we have a plan to get our economy continued on the road to recovery and putting those folks back to work, and protecting our country from those who seek to do us harm."
According to a new Pew poll, 39 percent of Americans say that this year's State of the Union address will be more important than in past years, and the president will be delivering the address to an audience skeptical of a U.S. economic recovery.
"I have not detected a level of anger and cynicism about the federal government in my lifetime as high as it is today," said Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind.
Obama will try to appeal to voters tonight by discussing programs that will help them directly, including nearly doubling the child tax credit, helping with student loans and developing ways to help the job market improve.
Gibbs said the president will outline plans to get "more and more Americans back to work by providing tax cuts to small businesses, to open up lending from community banks to many of the small businesses and create that environment where the private sector is hiring again."
The tax measures for small businesses are expected to include a credit for small business new hires, the elimination of capital-gains taxes for small business investments, and an extension of tax cuts and credits for the purchase of new equipment or facilities.
That may be just what the American public is looking for.
"I think they want to know that their president has heard about their pain and heard they want answers on jobs and unemployment," Republican strategist Mark McKinnon said.
To do that, Obama will focus on jobs, with proposals aimed at improving small-business hiring, White House officials say.
The president will push for a tax credit for small-business new hires, the elimination of capital-gains taxes for small-business investments and an extension of tax cuts and credits for the purchase of new equipment or facilities. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Small Business Administrator Karen Mills will be the point people for the new proposals.