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Obama to devote state address to jobs

Feb 10 2013 17:00 AFP

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Washington - President Barack Obama will build his annual state of the union address on Tuesday around a push for job creation as the fragile economy, which dogged his first term, threatens to hamper his second.

Obama will lay out a governing program that he hopes to squeeze through a divided US Congress, so as to complement the soaring progressive vision he sketched for history in his inaugural address last month.

Aides said Obama will seek to build support for new laws to curb gun violence, as the horror of December's massacre of 20 school kids begins to fade, at least outside the town of Newtown, Connecticut that it blighted.

The president also told Democratic lawmakers last week he would focus on job creation, new forms of energy and education reform in his ceremonial annual address delivered from the House of Representatives.

And he will make a pitch for immigration reform, the centerpiece of his second-term agenda, amid signs that Republicans keen to ease the distrust they suffer from among Hispanic voters may be ready for some rare cross-party compromise.

With political capital renewed by his re-election triumph in November, Obama will retool some old suggestions for jobs programs that never made it past Republicans in Congress and add some new ideas, advisers said.

After a sluggish economic recovery, there are new signs of alarm in the flat economy, after GDP contracted at an annual rate of 0.1% in the last quarter of 2012 and the unemployment rate has ticked up to 7.9%.

Obama will not shun conflict with Republicans over taxes and spending, a spat currently being waged over huge budget cuts due to come into force on March 1, with potential to hammer the economy.

"We're going to talk about, yes, deficits and taxes and sequesters and potential government shutdowns and (the) debt ceiling," Obama told the Democrats.

"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?"

Obama has fashioned his crusade for a more equitable economy for the middle class around higher taxes for the rich - a stance which Republicans oppose, arguing unsustainable public spending should be issue number one.

The president barely mentioned foreign policy in the inaugural address which enshrined his second White House term on January 21.

But the watching world may get a window into his thinking on Tuesday night.

Aides expect Obama to note the impending return home of the remaining 60 000 US troops in Afghanistan in 2014, but it is unclear if he will offer more details on the pace of their withdrawal.

Vice President Joe Biden gave a few hints on the State of the Union address on a recent trip to Munich, Germany.

He said Obama would mention his bid to reduce global nuclear stockpiles and halt the proliferation of the components of weapons of mass destruction.

Biden also previewed initiatives on climate change, global poverty and a new effort to reduce trade barriers, including with Europe, plus a commitment to Middle East peace and the US pivot to Asia.

Obama's speech will also be watched for any response to Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who just rejected a US offer for direct nuclear talks.

The US president is required by the Constitution to report to the Congress on the State of the Union "from time to time."

In the 20th century, the event evolved into today's ceremonial address, punctuated by multiple standing ovations.

Obama sees this speech as part two of a dialogue with the American people.

"I think that Obama's second inaugural address will go down in history as the last speech of his election campaign," William Galston, a former advisor to president Bill Clinton, now with the Brookings Institution, told AFPTV.

"I think the 2013 State of the Union address will be regarded as the framing speech for his second term."

Obama has a thorny challenge in getting an ambitious second term agenda through the gridlocked Congress.

"If President Obama wants to be a transformational president and be regarded in history in that way, he's going to have to build on this new vision of government that he's advancing," Galston said.

Republicans have nominated rising star Senator Marco Rubio, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, for the tricky assignment of responding to the president's address.

Response speeches, robbed of the euphoric power of the State of the Union, can come across as flat and are a risk for the person delivering them.

The stakes for Rubio are particularly high, given his rising prospects, epitomized by a Time magazine cover dubbing him the "Republican Savior."


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