WASHINGTON -- President Obama plans to call for compromise in his State of the Union address Tuesday night as he invites Republicans to join him in a search for common ground -- and subtly dares them not to.
The annual address -- the first of his second term -- comes as Obama faces a limited time of opportunity to pass legacy-making agenda items through a divided Congress while his political capital is still at its post-reelection high.
Republicans are skeptical of key elements of Obama's agenda, particularly his demand for a “balanced” economic plan that would raise taxes for corporations and the nation’s wealthy to pay for spending on infrastructure as well as deficit reduction.
GOP leaders have rejected Obama's efforts to add more stimulus spending to boost the struggling economy, and want to reduce the deficit largely through spending cuts and tax reform.
Obama's plea for compromise is not expected to come with any actual concessions in this debate over the federal budget, which will quickly come to a head as lawmakers search for a way to avoid a set of steep budget cuts set to take effect on March 1. Some economists have warned that the so-called sequester, which would cut $85 billion in federal spending through the end of September, could deal a major setback to the economy.
Instead, Obama is counting on his ability to bring the pressure of the American public to bear on Republicans to bend them in his direction. The president will aim to seize the middle ground, appearing reasonable and encouraging debate, but not to the detriment of economic recovery -- or his legislative agenda, according to an aide familiar with the speech who asked not to be identified.
“The president believes a good debate is good for our economy, but it can’t be endless,” the aide said. “We can’t use ongoing debates as an excuse not to take action.”
The talk of compromise is to be a central element of Obama’s State of the Union address, accompanied by the pomp and pageantry of the annual speech in the House chamber to a joint session of Congress, with its assembly of members on the floor and guests who watch from the balcony.
Despite the economic improvement since Obama’s first address four years ago, the national unemployment rate still hovers around 8%t and economic recovery remains tentative.
Against that backdrop, Obama plans to frame his agenda items in economic terms. Immigration reform is a top political priority, for example, but Obama will present it as an important investment in American competitiveness.
Likewise, he’ll talk about climate change in terms of economic opportunity. If the country invests in clean-energy technology, aides said the president will argue, there will be immediate and long-term economic results as well as the benefits to the environment.
Investment to help communities recover from superstorm Sandy, for example, also puts construction crews to work, an administration official explained.
In the balcony during the speech, First Lady Michelle Obama is scheduled to host a machinist who has recently improved his personal fortunes with job-training programs, illustrating the president’s argument that investing in educational opportunities is good for individual participants and local industries that need their skills.
The first lady’s guest list hints at other topics for the speech. She will also host a Minnesota woman born with a parasitic disease. Abby Schanfield, a recent University of Minnesota graduate, credits the president’s healthcare law with ensuring that she has insurance despite the preexisting condition.
The first lady also will sit with Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton and Nathaniel A. Pendleton, the parents of a Chicago teenager shot and killed shortly after participating in the inaugural celebration in Washington. Hadiya Pendleton, who was killed near the Obama's Kenwood neighborhood, has become for some a symbol of the urgency behind Obama's gun control efforts.