Expectations high for Obama’s State of the Union speech

ECONOMY AND ARMS::Cutting spending, boosting jobs, curbing gun violence and deep cuts in nuclear arms inventories are likely to be on the US president’s agenda

AP and NY Times News Service, WASHINGTON

Wed, Feb 13, 2013 - Page 1

US President Barack Obama’s speech last night on the condition of the US was expected to focus on cajoling recalcitrant lawmakers into bending to his second-term agenda on such issues as immigration reform, reducing gun violence and increasing taxes.

The annual State of the Union speech, which is closely monitored as the presidential blueprint for his goals for the year, was expected to push again for the ambitious progressive plans Obama outlined in his second inaugural address just three weeks ago. The president’s priorities also include easing back on spending cuts and addressing climate change.

Aware of the continuing partisan gridlock gripping Washington, Obama is banking on his popularity and the political capital from his convincing re-election victory in November last year to call on Americans to join him in persuading opposition lawmakers to stop stonewalling his vision for what he calls a fairer US with greater opportunity for all.

With Republicans in control of the House of Representatives and exerting influence in the Senate, Obama intends to employ all the tools at his disposal in an effort to win over the public to put pressure on Congress.

To that end, Obama plans immediately afterward to make a two-day trip to North Carolina, Georgia and his home state of Illinois to take his message directly to the American public.

Congress fought the president to a near standstill on virtually every White House initiative during his first term — though he succeeded in overhauling the healthcare system. In his second term, Obama has decided that he may stand a better chance of moving his agenda through Congress by garnering support from outside the capital rather than from within.

Massive federal spending cuts that will hit the US economy on March 1 if a compromise is not hammered out with Congress will surely color Obama’s speech like nothing else.

The cuts will slice deeply into spending for the Pentagon and a range of social programs. Obama also was expected to refocus on creating jobs in a country where the unemployment rate remains at nearly 8 percent.

Obama also is deeply invested in pushing for new laws aimed at curbing gun violence. Spurred by the mass shooting in December last year at a Connecticut elementary school that killed 20 children and six adults, Obama and like-minded Democrats are pushing for tougher regulations requiring universal background checks for gun buyers and bans on military-style assault weapons and high-volume ammunition magazines.

He was also expected to use his speech to reinvigorate one of his signature national security objectives — drastically reducing nuclear arsenals around the world — after securing agreement in recent months with the US military that the US nuclear force can be cut in size by roughly a third.

Obama, administration officials say, is unlikely to discuss specific numbers in the address, but White House officials are looking at a cut that would take the arsenal of deployed weapons to just above 1,000. Currently there are about 1,700, and the new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia that passed the Senate at the end of 2009 calls for a limit of roughly 1,550 by 2018.

The big question is how to accomplish a reduction that Obama views as long overdue, considering that Republicans in the Senate opposed even the modest cuts in the new arms reduction treaty, called START.

The White House is loath to negotiate an entirely new treaty with Russia, which would reprise a major fight with Republicans in the Senate over ratification.