Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — At 9 p.m. ET Tuesday, President Obama will deliver his seventh State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. It will be his first before a Republican majority in both chambers and likely his biggest U.S. television audience all year.
But unlike in years past, the content of the speech itself won’t be much of a surprise.
In a nod to the new political dynamic, changing media environment and a desire to fight “lame duck” status, Obama has spent the past two weeks rolling out his policy proposals on daily basis, upending tradition in the lead-up to the speech. Senior Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer dubbed it the “SOTU Spoilers” tour.
Here’s a look at what we already know about the speech theme, Obama’s proposals and his plan for the days ahead:
The 2015 SOTU Theme
The White House says Obama will declare a full-on economic “resurgence,” even as many Americans say it still hasn’t affected them. “America’s resurgence is real. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise,” Obama said in Detroit Jan. 7, previewing his SOTU message.
Obama has been buoyed by a wave of recent positive economic data and new poll numbers that show Americans give him some credit. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll found that the most Americans in eight years say the economy is in “good shape,” 41 percent, with approval of the president surging back to the watermark of 50 percent.
In the lead-up to the speech, Obama has repeatedly said his goal in 2015 is making sure more Americans “feel” the recovery.
The “core theme” of the speech will be “middle-class economics” and “doubling down” on efforts to boost wages and mobility, Pfeiffer said Sunday.
“How we make paychecks go farther right now; how we create more good-paying jobs right now; and how do we give people the skills they need to get those high-paying jobs,” Pfeiffer said, teasing Obama’s three-leg plan.
The Obama SOTU ‘Spoilers’
Here’s a look at what we’ve heard so far:
- Lower Mortgage Insurance Premiums: Obama announced in Phoenix, Arizona, Jan. 8 that the Federal Housing Administration would cut insurance rates from 1.35 percent to 0.85 percent. The agency estimates that 2 million U.S. borrowers will save an average of $900 a year if they purchase or refinance homes.
- Free Community College Tuition: In a video posted to Facebook, President Obama unveiled a $60 billion plan over 10 years to provide free community college tuition to students who attend at least half-time and maintain good grades. Schools would also have to meet certain requirements to qualify, and states would have to cover a quarter of the cost. The White House estimates that up to 9 million students could save an average $3,800 per year if every state participates.
- Cybersecurity – Consumer Protections: During a trip to the Federal Trade Commission, Obama proposed a 30-day notification law mandating that companies inform consumers promptly after a data breach has been identified. He also renewed a call for consumer privacy “bill of rights” legislation. Obama also proposed legislation putting new nationwide limits on mining of student data from devices used in K-12 classroom settings.
- Cybersecurity – National Defense: Obama proposed legislation to promote greater information sharing between the government and private sector businesses, including liability protection for data they share. He proposed new tools for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute cybercrime.
- Cheaper, Faster Internet Access: In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates TV and radio airwaves, Obama formally called on the agency to fight state laws that limit broadband service competition. In essence, the president wants the Internet treated like a public utility. The administration also unveiled $40 to $50 million in new loans and grants through the Agriculture Department aimed at encouraging rural Internet providers. Obama also scheduled a summit for June aimed at streamlining rural broadband permitting and sharing best practices.
- Paid Leave for Workers and Families: Obama will call on Congress to pass a bill that would require all U.S. companies to give employees seven days of paid sick leave a year. He’ll also ask for $2 billion to help states start their own paid family and medical leave programs, officials said. Obama signed a presidential memorandum last week to make it easier for federal employees to take up to six weeks of “maternity” leave by advancing paid sick leave.
- Eased Cuba Travel, Trade Restrictions: By executive action, the Treasury and Commerce Departments added regulatory amendments to existing sanctions on Cuba that effectively end the decades-old travel ban and ease stringent rules on business transactions and trade.
- Summit on Combating Violent Extremism: First proposed in September 2014, scheduled for October, then postponed without explanation, the Obama administration finally put this summit on the calendar for Feb. 18, 2015, after the Paris attacks.
- Grants to Train Cybersecurity Experts: Vice President Biden and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced $25 million in grants to historically black colleges and universities to help bolster training programs for careers in cybersecurity.
- Tax Cuts for Middle Class, Hikes on Wealthy: The president is proposing tax code changes that would raise $320 billion in revenue from wealthy Americans and businesses, while cutting middle class taxes by $175 billion. The plan would eliminate the so-called “trust-fund loophole,” taxing inheritances of high-income Americans. Obama would also raise capital-gains tax to 28 percent from 23.8 percent for those making more than $500,000 a year, and impose a new fee on big banks. For families, the changes would include a $500 credit for working parents; increased child and education tax credits; and new retirement savings incentives.
- New Cap on Methane Gas Emissions: By executive authority, Obama imposed new regulations on the oil and gas industry’s emissions of methane. The administration says the goal will be a 45 percent cut in 2012 emission levels in 10 years.
- Infrastructure Funding: The Obama administration unveiled new initiatives at several federal agencies aimed at promoting greater private sector capital investment in infrastructure projects. The efforts will help expand access to existing federal grant and loan programs to speed application and approval, officials say. The administration also unveiled new infrastructure tax proposals at an event attended by Vice President Biden last week.
What Else Might Be in Obama’s Speech?
While the State of the Union address is always heavy on domestic policy, the president will likely give a nod to several foreign developments, from the global terror crackdown after the Paris attacks to the end of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan. Obama may use the speech as an opportunity to call for a formal end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba, something only Congress can lift. He may praise progress in the fight against Ebola and ISIS, ask for “fast-track” authority for trade deals and warn lawmakers against new sanctions on Iran. The president is expected to press Republicans to pass a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security without strings attached, and challenge them again to enact immigration overhaul.
On ABC’s This Week Sunday, the roundtable was asked what one line they would like to hear Obama include in his address.
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What Happens After the Speech?
Obama’s policy proposals are unabashedly Democratic priorities with little chance of passage through a Republican-controlled Congress. They will be followed by an equally political budget for the 2016 fiscal year when it’s released on time Feb. 2. Reports suggest a 7 percent increase in discretionary spending after years of belt-tightening.
The White House says we should expect more “big, bold, decisive action” in the weeks ahead, in many cases circumventing Congress, as they did last year. “We’re going to run that same play,” spokesman Eric Schultz told ABC News. “Congress is going to take some actions that the president doesn’t support, and we’re going to take some actions that the Congress doesn’t support,” Schultz said.
Obama will hit the road Wednesday to Boise, Idaho, (his first visit to that state as president) and Lawrence, Kansas. He will speak at state universities in both cities.
Meanwhile, spokesman Josh Earnest and White House staff will field questions about the State of the Union on social media all day, an event they are dubbing the “Big Block of Cheese Day.”
Obama will participate Thursday in a live YouTube chat hosted by the platform’s creators. Over the weekend, he heads to New Delhi, India, for previously announced participation in Republic Day and meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
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