President Obama is likely to repeat the aggressive and decidedly liberal tone of his inaugural address for Tuesday’s State of the Union, looking less to negotiate with Republicans than to cast his proposals to create more public sector jobs, raise taxes on the wealthy and pass new provisions on immigration and gun control as the will of the American public and suggest Republicans are out of step with voters if they attempt to block Obama’s ideas.
Obama and his aides, in previewing his speech, are emphasizing that the president will tout his job creation ideas, which include increased spending to hire more Americans to build roads, bridges and other infrastructure, the kind of policies Republicans in Congress have long opposed. He will call for tougher background checks and limits on high-capacity magazines and highlight the relatives of victims of gun violence, including the parents of Hadiya Pendleton. Most Republicans oppose both gun control proposals.
He is also expected to urge the delay of planned cuts in defense and non-defense spending known as the sequester and demand Congress instead adopt proposals to reduce the federal budget deficit that would include tax increases, also anathema to Republicans.
Even his nods toward deficit reduction, a priority for both the president and Republicans, are likely to be framed in terms of Obama’s other big priority, reducing the growing income inequality in America, which the president sees as a much bigger concern than Republicans do.
“I’m going to talk about, yes, deficits and taxes and sequesters and potential government shutdowns and debt ceiling — we’ll talk about that stuff, but all from the perspective of how are we making sure that somebody who works hard in this country — a cop, or a teacher, or a construction worker, or a receptionist — that they can make it if they work hard, and that their kids can make it and dream even bigger dreams than they have achieved,” the president told a group of House Democrats last week, on the eve of his speech to the nation.
The speech is likely to continue a shift for Obama, who spent much of his first three years in office trying to use rhetoric that would bring Republicans to his side. Now, the president’s approach to passing legislation largely does not include trying to court Republicans publicly or even in private meetings. Instead, Obama is finding ideas, like requiring universal background checks for people to purchase guns, that are popular and them pressing them strongly, forcing Republicans to oppose ideas backed by large majorities of Americans.
Since Election Day, Obama has succeeded in this approach, as Republicans over the last two months accepted an increase on taxes for the wealthy and raised the federal debt limit without a protracted political negotiation, both steps Obama had urged and polls showed most Americans supported. The president is now taking the same tack on gun control. Obama and his aides are not emphasizing banning assault weapons, which is not politically popular but also may not be very effective, as most crimes are committed with people using handguns. Instead, he is emphasizing background checks, which polls suggest more than 80 percent of Americans support.
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @PerryBaconJr.