Obama State of the Union: 'Do-Nothing' Congress Campaign Hits Capitol Hill
President Obama's State of the Union will highlight a major re-election theme.
WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2012— -- President Obama has spent the past three months railing against a "do-nothing Congress," and tonight he has the opportunity to deliver his message face to face.
Obama will use his third State of the Union Address to promote what aides describe as a populist economic agenda he's already spent weeks pitching directly to voters, insisting the ideas deserve bipartisan support. Now, in the face of what he's framed as Republican obstruction, Obama will draw an election-year line in the sand.
This is a "make-or-break moment for the middle class and folks trying to work their way into the middle class," Obama said, previewing the address in a video posted on his re-election campaign website and emailed to supporters.
"Because we can go in two directions: One is towards less opportunity and less fairness, or we can fight for where I think we need to go: building an economy that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few."
Obama intends to make tax fairness a central theme to illustrate his point, renewing a push for what he calls the Buffett Rule, a principle for tax reform that would ensure billionaires and millionaires do not pay a lower effective tax rate than members of the middle class.
The White House also plans to put a face on the issue, hosting Debbie Bosanek, aka Warren Buffet's secretary, who famously pays a higher tax rate (as a percentage of her income) than her billionaire boss, in the presidential box for the address.
The class contrast and tax fairness issues, two of Obama's major re-election campaign themes, will get what is arguably it tjeor biggest audience yet with the nationally televised address in prime time. An estimated 43 million viewers watched Obama's State of the Union last year.
But as Obama lays out what he calls a "blueprint" for the county, viewers may find that many of the ideas aren't all that new.
Proposals Obama put forward in 2011, from eliminating subsidies for oil companies, to overhauling No Child Left Behind and the nation's immigration system, remain unresolved. Many of the infrastructure investments the president heralded have not gotten off the ground, while sweeping tax reform to "simplify the system and get rid of the loopholes" is still elusive.
"I think that any State of the Union address which lays out an agenda has to be ambitious. And if you got through a year and you achieved everything on your list, then you probably didn't aim high enough. So I think this president aims high," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday.
"There are absolutely things that remain undone that need to be done, that he will call on all of us to work together to get done in this address and beyond," he added. "But there is also a fairly comprehensive list of proposals that have been achieved, that I'm sure we'll be discussing as the year goes on."
Among those accomplishments are newly signed trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia that had been in works since the Bush administration, a recently-launched effort to streamline and reorganize the federal agencies, and a new website for how tax dollars are spent -- all mentioned in the address one year ago.
Perhaps the biggest areas of achievement Obama will tout are in foreign and military policy: a successful raid that killed Osama bin Laden, a targeted international military operation in Libya that helped in the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi, and an end to the war in Iraq.
White House aides say the overarching framework of the address, with the sweeping rhetoric and broad policy priorities of State of the Unions past, will "bookend" Obama's "fair shot" speech in Osawatomie, Kan., one month ago.
He will underline a vision of revitalizing American manufacturing, boosting energy production, invigorating skills training programs for American workers and a return to "American values," they say.
But will Republicans buy it?
Claims of optimism for a bipartisan embrace notwithstanding, the short answer is no.