Obama to give union speech
President Obama awards a Medal of Honor to Sergeant Clinton Romesha at the White House yesterday. Mr Obama is expected to announce the withdrawal of 34,000 troops from Afghanistan in his state of the union speech. Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters
US president Barack Obama will be looking across a vast partisan divide as he reports to Congress and the nation with his annual state of the union speech.
It will be closely monitored as the blueprint for his goals for the year. They include job creation and a push for the ambitious progressive plans he outlined in his second inaugural address three weeks ago.
Mr Obama also will address North Korea’s latest nuclear weapon test in defiance of UN warnings.
He will also announce that 34,000 US troops will be home from Afghanistan one year from today. That is about half the US troops currently in Afghanistan. The decision marks the next phase in Mr Obama’s plans to end the US-led war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
On domestic issues, Mr Obama hopes he can encourage Congress to join him in reforming laws on gun ownership and immigration and boosting taxes to raise government spending power. The president’s priorities also include easing back on spending cuts and addressing climate change.
Aware of the partisan gridlock gripping Washington, Mr Obama is banking on his popularity and the political capital from his convincing re-election in November as he calls on Americans to join him in his vision for what he calls a fairer country with greater opportunity for all.
With Republicans in control of the House of Representatives and exerting influence in the Democratic-controlled Senate, Mr Obama plans immediately afterward to make a two-day, three-state foray to take his message directly to the American people.
Congress fought the president to a near standstill on virtually every White House initiative during his first term — although he succeeded in overhauling the health care system.
In his second term Mr Obama has decided that he may stand a better chance of moving his agenda through Congress by drawing support from outside the capital rather than from within.
Massive federal spending cuts that will hit the US economy on March 1st if a compromise is not hammered out with Congress will surely colour the speech. Some predict the cuts could push the United States back into recession.
The cuts will slice deeply into spending for the Pentagon and a range of social programs.
While the deep cuts, which grew out of a failure to reach a deal in 2011, were conceived as a blow to the budget that is unacceptable to both parties, some Republicans are threatening to let it go forward if Mr Obama does not agree to big cuts in the so-called social safety net programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, which provide health care and other assistance to the elderly and poor, as well as social security retirement benefits.
Mr Obama also was expected to refocus on creating jobs in a country where the unemployment rate remains at nearly 8 per cent. He failed to address the issue in any depth in his inaugural address, leaving his political opponents an opening to criticise him for ignoring an issue of over-riding importance.
Mr Obama also is deeply invested in pushing for new laws aimed at curbing gun violence. Spurred by the mass shooting in December at a Connecticut school that killed 20 children and six adults, he and like-minded Democrats are pushing for tougher regulations requiring universal background checks for gun buyers and bans on military-style assault weapons and high-volume ammunition magazines.
Another presidential priority — and possibly the most likely to succeed in getting passed by Congress — is granting illegal residents a pathway to citizenship as part of an overhaul of immigration reform.
Mr Obama will face continuing opposition to any proposal he puts forward in an effort to curb climate change. Given that any major climate bill is unlikely to pass the divided Congress, the White House has said he intends to move forward on issuing rules to control carbon emissions from power plants as he relies increasingly on his executive authority instead.