State of the Union 2011: A One-Click Guide

What will the president say and who will be there to listen to him?

January 25, 2011, 7:53 AM

Jan. 25, 2011 -- Each winter in recent memory, the U.S. president takes the short ride to Capitol Hill to give Congress his assessment of the "State of the Union."

Here's a one-click guide to the speech, its history and what to expect this year.

This year President Obama will call for a modified freeze in discretionary spending, according to ABC's Jake Tapper. While the President will suggest spending increases in education and infrastructure, he will follow a Republican talking point and endorse freezing spending on non-defense-related items.

He will also respond to many Republicans and call for a ban on earmarks.

Read more about what will be in the speech in Jake's report.

Why does the President give this annual address; What is the State of the Union?

Mandated in the Constitution, the report must be given "from time to time." But since Woodrow Wilson started giving the speech in person, it has evolved into an annual pageant. For more on the history of the State of the Union, including a look at how all the speeches have very similar themes, from biblical verses to pledges to wean America off foreign sources of energy, check out John Donvan's "This Week" report.

The president makes bold pronouncements each year about how he will guide the ship in the next year. For a look at what promises President Obama made last January and which ones he kept (or not), click HERE.

And for a list of recent allusions to the Bible in State of the Union addresses, click HERE.

What to Expect This Year

The first thing to expect is a new audience. When Obama gave his first State of the Union address last year, his party controlled both houses of Congress. But 112 new Republicans came to Washington after the November midterm election.

Republicans now control the House of Representatives and instead of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sitting behind him while he gives his speech, it will be House Speaker John Boehner.

Read more about the Republican takeover HERE.

While the election was heated, there has been a move since to tamp down the rhetoric and move toward bipartisan solutions. The lame-duck period after the election was particularly productive as Democrats and a few Republicans passed a number of bills before Republicans took control of the House this month.

Obama will likely point to this period as the way government should work. Obama will likely point to this period as the way government should work. Republicans grumbled at the time that Democrats took advantage of the lame-duck session, passing legislation before Republicans officially took control of the House in January.

State of the Union Guide

Since November, the president has seen a turnaround in public approval. The turnaround -- from less than 45 percent approval to 54 percent in the last ABC News poll -- provides him with a fair amount of momentum despite his party's loss of the House.

Who Will Attend?

Will Supreme Court Justices Attend the State of the Union? Justice Samuel Alito visibly disagreed with Obama at last year's address when the president criticized the court's decision to invalidate campaign finance law that limited corporate money in elections.

This year, instead of sitting quietly while the president speaks -- as the justices usually do -- Alito will be giving a speech in Hawaii. It is unclear which justices will attend.

At the same time, the era of new civility in Washington kicks off with D.C.'s "date night." Lawmakers from opposing parties will sit next to each other instead of on their normal sides of the aisle.

Recent speeches have been marked by one side or the other standing and applauding while the other side of the room, separated by the main aisle in the House of Representatives, sits silently. At the 2010 address, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., even yelled, 'You lie,' at the president.

But in the wake of the Tucson, Ariz., shooting this month, lawmakers plan to make a point of being more bipartisan by, if nothing else, intermingling the parties. For a look at which lawmakers have paired off, click HERE.

It is clear that the economy and political tone will be the focuses of the speech. What is the evidence? In the visitors area, sitting next to the first lady will be an array of small business owners and big business executives.

Also in the visitors box will be Medal of Honor winner Salvatore Giunta and several other veterans, as well as Daniel Hernandez, the intern who attended to the critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson after she was shot by a lone gunman.

State of the Union Guide

As for policy, Obama is expected to suggest cutting some budget items but investing in others. The exact contents are tightly held secrets but some details have leaked out to the White House press corps.

Republicans will get a chance to respond. But while Obama's speech will likely last more than an hour, the Republican response will be less than a quarter of that.

The GOP response will be given by budget hawk and Wisconsinite Rep. Paul Ryan. He'll speak from the Budget Committee room as Republicans try to make the point that they are serious about cutting discretionary, non-defense spending.

Ryan, 40, is a telegenic lawmaker from the battleground state of Wisconsin. But his proposals to bring the U.S. deficit in order rely on creating voucher systems in Medicare and private investment accounts in Social Security. Neither has been endorsed by the Republican leadership. Click HERE for more on Ryan.

Before the speech, Republicans in the House plan a symbolic vote to roll back non-defense discretionary spending to 2008 levels; the last time they were in charge of both houses of Congress.

Even among Republicans, however, there is no agreement on the budget. Responding seperately to the president will be Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., a founding member of the Tea Party caucus.

After the speeches and analyses, the president will leave the next day for Wisconsin to try to sell his proposals in the heartland; and in a state where Democrats lost two House seats, a Senate seat and the governorship in 2010.

State of the Union Guide

Matthew Dowd was President George W. Bush's political strategist in the 2004 presidential campaign and an ABC consultant. Read his guide to grading the State of the Union addresses HERE.

And take our quiz to test your State of the Union IQ HERE.

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