Jobs and the economy will be the focus of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address tonight, his second major speech in 22 days, a White House official said Monday.
In his inaugural address, Mr. Obama stressed social equality, immigration policy, gun control and climate change, but tonight 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 the White House official.
The major television networks will begin coverage of the speech before a joint session of Congress beginning at 9 p.m.
Experts in politics and rhetoric aren't surprised by the shift, given uninspiring news about the economy in the intervening weeks. That includes a jobs report that puts unemployment at 7.9 percent, up from 7.8 percent when the president took office for his second term.
That's going to force the focus of the speech on economic issues, even though Mr. Obama 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 Pennsylvania reporters Monday, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said government needs to focus more on jobs and the strategies that will create them.
Tonight "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," Mr. Casey 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 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 one, said the administration official.
Mr. Obama was laying out a vision for America with expanded opportunities for everyone, the aide said. Overhauling 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," said the official, who was speaking on background.
Mr. Casey, who got a preview of Mr. Obama'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.
Mr. Casey said he is hoping the speech will include a mention of his own proposal to offer 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 regional reporters Monday didn't mention the proposal but indicated that the president will address gun control, government efficiencies, entitlement overhaul and tax fairness. Mr. Obama 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 tonight's 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, the Michigan professor, said.
Ed Uravic, a former Washington lobbyist who teaches business analysis at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, predicted Mr. Obama will build on the combative tack he took in the inaugural address.
"He set himself and the Democratic Party on this course," Mr. Uravic said. "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 midterm election, making it harder for those presidents to enact policies in their last two years in office.
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