WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama will make a feisty pitch for economic populism in his penultimate State of the Union Tuesday night, touting the improving economy under his watch and making the case that government has a role in ensuring equal opportunity for all.
“At this moment — with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production — we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth,” Obama will say in the speech, according to advance excerpts of the prepared remarks.
“It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come.”
Obama will argue that the policies he’ll outline in his address — which include an ambitious plan to raise taxes on wealthy Americans and financial institutions to pay for progressive priorities — favor the middle class, and that “middle-class economics works.”
And he’ll lay down the gauntlet to Republicans: They’ll “continue to work, as long as politics don’t get in the way.”
It’s expected to be a defiant speech for the president, now freed from the shackles of vulnerable red-state Democrats up for reelection and looking to burnish his legacy in his final two years. Instead of granting Republicans their wish for a realistic compromiser-in-chief chastened by a midterm election drubbing, Obama will try to set the terms of an economic debate that could continue into the 2016 race to replace him in the Oval Office.
At the heart of his message is a Robin Hood-style plan to raise taxes on wealthy Americans’ investments and financial institutions and use that money to foot the bill for free community college tuition and new tax credits for child care and two-worker households.
“We still know that wages need to go up more,” top Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett said in an interview on CNN’s “The Lead.”
She said Obama’s speech will be filled with “very pragmatic steps that he will outline tonight that he thinks will strengthen that economy — and we now have a six-year track record that demonstrates that the president’s policies and programs have worked, and we need to continue those efforts.”
Taking top billing in Tuesday night’s speech will be the tax-and-spend plan Obama has rolled out in recent days, and the benefits would largely go to students and young families
- The child care tax credit would triple to $3,000
- Households in which both spouses work could qualify for a new $500 credit
- College students and those repaying loans could get breaks thanks to Obama’s plan to make two-year community college degrees free.
- Obama is pushing for federal workers to get at least six weeks of paid maternity leave once their children are born.He’s also lobbying lawmakers to pass a bill allowing workers to earn up to seven paid sick days, and pushing local governments to set up their own sick leave programs.
- Obama is calling on the Federal Communications Commission to override 19 states’ laws against municipalities setting up their own broadband infrastructure, in the interest of faster internet access.
- The President is likely to ask Congress to approve legislation that would allow government and businesses to work together more closely to thwart online attacks.
Footing the bill are tax hikes on the rich: a total of $320 billion over 10 years by targeting wealthy individuals and banks. Paying most of the price would be couples earning more than $500,000, who would see their capital gains rate jump from 23.8% to 28%. More inherited assets would be subject to capital gains taxes and top financial firms would face new fees.
Before the speech, Republican congressional leaders made clear that Obama’s proposals are dead on arrival.
“It all looks like the same old tax and spend that the president has been advocating for the last six years,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said.
He called Obama’s tax plan “another income redistribution effort” and said it won’t help Congress work on a comprehensive tax overhaul.
“Hopefully that’s just rhetoric,” McConnell said. “He knows we’re not likely to pass these kinds of measures. And we’ll still look for things that we can actually agree on to try and make some progress here.”
FIGHTING ISIS: Unrest in Yemen, where the presidential palace had been overrun by rebels who looked to be completing a coup, threw a late wrench into Obama’s speech preparations — especially since he’d held the country up as an example of international partnerships in fighting ISIS. Obama has also called on lawmakers to authorize the use of military force against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
“In Iraq and Syria, American leadership — including our military power — is stopping ISIL’s advance,” Obama plans to say. “Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group. … This effort will take time. It will require focus. But we will succeed. And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL.”
CYBERSECURITY: The President is likely to ask Congress to approve legislation that would allow government and businesses to work together more closely to thwart online attacks — a proposal that could win the support of the GOP-led Congress.
“No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids,” Obama plans to say, according to his prepared remarks. “We are making sure our government integrates intelligence to combat cyber threats, just as we have done to combat terrorism. And tonight, I urge this Congress to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyber-attacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children’s information.”
CUBA: Perhaps the richest pageantry of the night is over Obama’s recent move to thaw the decades-old economic and diplomatic freeze with the small island country. Obama had invited Alan Gross, the U.S. contractor whose release from a Cuban prison he had secured in November. The President’s top critic, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), had asked Cuban activist Rosa María Payá to come as his guest. She’s the daughter of Oswaldo Payá, a pro-democracy activist who was killed in a 2012 crash in which the car’s driver has said it was deliberately targeted by Cuban government officials.
IRAN: The White House had extended the deadline for its negotiations with Iran to end the country’s nuclear program, but lawmakers have said they’ve run out of patience with the Iranian regime and want to impose new sanctions. Obama has urged them to wait.
FREE TRADE: Obama could risk angering his own base by asking lawmakers to hand him authority to fast-track Pacific Rim and European Union trade deals through Congress with limited debate and no amendments — a power seen as crucial to finalizing those negotiations with foreign leaders.
INTERNET ACCESS: In an in-the-weeds regulatory proposal that could result in much-faster Internet access for many cities and states, Obama is calling on the Federal Communications Commission to override 19 states’ laws against municipalities setting up their own broadband infrastructure.