Obama to focus on jobs, economy in State of Union

Today's State of the Union address will mark President Obama's second major speech in less than a month. In his inaugural address he stressed social equality, immigration, and gun control, but today he is expected to return his attention to job creation.
Today's State of the Union address will mark President Obama's second major speech in less than a month. In his inaugural address he stressed social equality, immigration, and gun control, but today he is expected to return his attention to job creation.

WASHINGTON — Jobs and the economy will be the focus of President Obama’s second major speech in 22 days, according to administration sources.

In his inaugural address, he stressed social equality, immigration policy, gun control, and climate change, but today he is expected to return to the themes of last year’s State of the Union address.

He will stress a vision for creating jobs in manufacturing, education, clean energy, and infrastructure improvement, said a White House aide who spoke off the record.

Experts in politics and rhetoric aren’t surprised by the shift given uninspiring news about the economy in the intervening weeks, including a jobs report that puts unemployment at 7.9 percent, up from 7.8 percent when the President took office.

That’s going to force the focus of the speech on economic issues, even though the President might rather talk about the social agenda he prioritized on Inauguration Day, said Aaron Kall, director of the debate program at the University of Michigan.

During a conference call with reporters Monday, Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) said government needs to focus more on jobs and the strategies that will create them.

The address “is a big night for the country in terms of what the President is outlining as a series of strategies to move the economy forward,” he said.

“It’s a great opportunity for the President and the country to focus our attention … on job creation and manufacturing.”

Mr. Obama’s inaugural address last month included two passing mentions of jobs, a word he uttered 37 times in the course of last year’s State of the Union address.

The priorities he stressed in that speech are strongly tied to job creation, something the President has been focused on since Day 1, an administration official said.

He was laying out a vision for America with expanded opportunities for everyone, the aide said. Reforming immigration, for example, will allow people to come out of the shadows and have access to jobs on a level playing field, he said.

“The issues that got a lot of attention during the President’s inaugural remarks are directly related to his vision of expanding economic opportunities for middle-class families in this country, and I think that will be reflected in the State of the Union address,” the aide said.

Mr. Casey, who got a preview of the President’s remarks during a recent Democratic retreat in Maryland, said he also expects the President to propose incentives for mortgage refinancing that will allow homeowners to take advantage of an improved market.

He’s hoping the speech will include a mention of his own proposal to offer to tax credits to business owners who increase their payrolls.

“He’s in favor of strategies like that … and he’s endorsed them before,” Mr. Casey said.

The White House aide who spoke with reporters Monday didn’t mention the proposal but indicated the President will address gun control, government efficiencies, entitlement reform, and tax fairness.

He will call on Congress to move forward on areas of common ground rather than allow disagreements to drag on and impede progress, the aide said.

“The President believes that a good debate is good for our economy, and it’s good for that debate to be vigorous, but it can’t be endless. We can’t use ongoing debate as an excuse not to take action so the President will challenge Congress to seize common ground where it exists,” he said.

Rhetoricians and academics are eager to hear the tone of the address.

“A lot of people thought the tone of the inaugural address was very combative. The question is: Will he stay with that posture or move to something where he could actually get something done?” Mr. Kall said.

Ed Uravic, a former Washington lobbyist who teaches business analysis at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, predicts Mr. Obama will build on the combative tack he took in the inaugural address. “He set himself and the Democratic Party on this course,” said Mr. Uravic. “The President can’t turn back now.”

Mr. Kall isn’t so sure. “I think he will try to extend an olive branch where he thinks there is some common ground,” he said.

He wants to build a legacy, and time is running out, Mr. Kall said.

The parties of lame-duck Presidents tend to lose seats during the midterm election, making it harder for the administration to enact policies in their last two years in office.

The address will start at 9 p.m. today and will be carried by major television networks.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Tracie Mauriello is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

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