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(by Devin Dwyer, ABC News) – At 9 p.m. ET Tuesday, President Obama will deliver his sixth State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. It will be the first Republican-controlled Congress of his presidency.
But unlike years past, the content of the speech itself won’t be much of a surprise.
In a nod to the new political dynamic….and a desire to fight “lame duck” status, Obama has spent the past two weeks rolling out his policy proposals on a daily basis. 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.
In the lead-up to the speech, the President 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.
Over the past two weeks, President Obama has upended tradition in the lead-up to State of the Union by unveiling proposed legislation and executive actions ahead of his speech. 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 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 [requiring] 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 Defenses: 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: Bypassing Congress, by executive action President Obama through 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 over $500,000 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: Bypassing Congress, by executive authority President 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. They 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.
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 FY 2016 budget 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.
Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from ABCNews. Visit the website at abcnews .com.
NOTE to students: Read the information under “Background” below before answering the questions.
1. a) What is the State of the Union address? What is the purpose of the address?
b) When and where is the State of the Union given?
2. a) List the three things President Obama is expected to say he will do to improve “middle-class economics” according to senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer.
CHALLENGE: b) In his address, how did he explain his plan for making these three happen?
3. CHALLENGE: Over the past two weeks, President Obama presented many of his plans for the year, including proposing new legislation and introducing changes he will make by using executive action to bypass Congress. Read through the 12 points ABC News lists. Choose the three points you find confusing. Pay attention to President Obama’s explanation of each during the speech (where the money will come from to pay for the proposal). Write a brief explanation for each next to the topic.
4. a) List the foreign policy topics President Obama might speak about in his address.
b) Which one(s) do you think it is important for the President to highlight?
5. Which of the following issues do you think are most important for President Obama to focus on in his State of the Union? Explain your answer.
- the economy/jobs/unemployment
- what to do about the out of control threat by Islamic terrorists
- Iraq, Syria…
- crisis in Ukraine
- Cuba embargo
- illegal immigration crisis
- free community college tuition; how much it will cost per year; where the money will come from to pay for the program
- racial tensions; peaceful protesting vs. rioting – perhaps how Dr. Martin Luther King would have worked to resolve this crisis
- other (explain)
6. Ask a parent what issues he/she thinks President Obama should focus on in his State of the Union, and to explain his/her answer.
CHALLENGE — Watch the State of the Union address and answer the following questions:
1. Tone is the attitude a speaker takes towards a subject. What was the tone of President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address?
2. What was the overall theme of the president’s speech?
3. a) What general statement did President Obama make about the economy in his address to the nation?
b) What is your reaction to this encouraging statement?
c) Ask a parent the same question.
4. List some of the things the President promised to do to improve the economy.
5. What new initiatives did President Obama propose in his State of the Union?
6. Which issues did the President bypass altogether, or just mention briefly?
7. What issue presented by President Obama was the most important to you? Did any aspect of the speech disappoint you? Explain your answers. (For the text and video of the 2015 State of the Union address, click here.)
8. a) Do you think the President is focusing on the correct issues? Explain your answer.
b) Ask a parent the same question.
10. Watch/read the Republican response to the President’s State of the Union at gop.com/state-of-the-union-2015 or c-span.org. What do you think of newly elected Iowa Senator Joni Ernst’s response?
THE STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS:
“The President shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” US Constitution Article II, Section 3
- The State of the Union is an annual address presented by the President to the United States Congress. The address not only reports on the condition of the nation but also allows the president to outline his legislative agenda (for which he needs the cooperation of Congress) and his national priorities.
- By tradition, the President makes this report annually.
- While not required to deliver a speech, every president since Woodrow Wilson has made the State of the Union report as a speech delivered before a joint session of Congress. Before that time, most presidents delivered the State of the Union as a written report.
- Since Wilson, the State of the Union is given typically each January before a joint session of the United States Congress and is held in the House of Representatives chamber of the United States Capitol.
- George Washington gave the first state of the union address on January 8, 1790 at the Federal Hall in New York City.
- Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s third president, did not continue this practice. In 1801, Jefferson detailed his priorities and sent written copies of his message to each house of Congress. Jefferson “was concerned that the practice of appearing before the representatives of the people was too similar to the British monarch’s ritual of addressing the opening of each new Parliament with a list of policy mandates, rather than ‘recommendations.’”
- For the next 112 years, the President’s annual message was written, not spoken.
- In the 20th Century, the oral address was revived, first with Woodrow Wilson in 1913. Like Washington, he spoke to both Houses of Congress. Ten years later, Calvin Coolidge broadcast his address on radio.
- Franklin D Roosevelt called the speech the “State of the Union” in 1935. In 1947, Harry Truman, FDR’s vice president – who succeeded him as President, was the first to broadcast his State of the Union address on television.
- Since 1966, the State of the Union address has been followed by a response from a member of the opposition party.
- It is customary for the opposing party to respond to a President’s State of the Union address. Washington House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers will give the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address. Watch Sen. Joni Ernst’s response at: gop.gov/sotu or c-span.org.
- Liberals generally support Democratic President Obama. For a liberal perspective of President Obama’s speech, go to the liberal website TheNation.com (updated)
- Conservatives generally oppose the President’s policies. For a conservative perspective of President Obama’s speech, go to the conservative website NationalReview.com.
- For texts and/or videos of Presidential State of the Union Addresses since 1945, go to c-span.org/SOTU.
- Watch or read President Obama’s entire speech at whitehouse.gov/sotu
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