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State of the Union guessing game: predicted Obama will give economy heavy speech

With days left before the big speech, the guessing game is full swing, what will President Obama say and include in the 2014 State of the Union Address, the sixth of his presidency to be delivered on Tuesday, Jan. 28 at 9:00 pm ET. On Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 the White House released a teaser the photo of the day with Obama working with his Director of Speechwriting Cody Keenan in the oval office of a draft of the address. An accompanied video was also released with highly edited pages from the address, but the words were too blurry to get any indication of the phrases Obama may have in his final draft. It is all part of the White House's sale to the American public to turn in and watch on any media they choose the President's address.

President Barack Obama with Director of Speechwriting Cody Keenan consulting on a draft of the 2014 State of the Union Address, White House Oval Office, Jan. 22, 2014
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Obama's address is set to stylistically resemble his previous addresses, and most of the news media agree Obama will primarily emphasize the economy, give his "laundry list" of legislation he wants passed over the next year, and chastise the Republican Congress and then promise to act on his own. Alluding to weekly addresses and economic speeches from this January, since President Obama has a tendency to use repetitive phrases as a thematic rhetorical element in his major speech; "year of action" often seen in these recent addresses and speeches or a variation is a good candidate for the 2014 State of the Union Address. Most pundits in the media think he will be just as successful with his demands as he was last year. If last year was a "do-nothing Congress," this year will focus even less on legislation than the fight for Congressional control in the November midterm elections.

The President's recent weekly addresses on the economy are good indicators as to what areas Obama will focus on the most. The White House previously indicated the President intends to close the gap between rich and poor, resolved on solving the economic inequality and mobility problem however, the approach has been criticized and the Republicans have called it class warfare.

Obama and the White House have revised the theme in the New Year from "economic inequality" to "economic opportunity," even though the "economic message" and plans are virtually the same. The White House has stated that President Obama however, will put a positive on the issue and instead make the solutions that will provide and "expand economic opportunity" the main theme of his State of the Union Address. The President will stress according to ABC News "policies that help move low income people into the middle class."

While senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer who wrote a message sent to those on the White House's email list on Saturday, Jan. 25 stated that in his address the President "will lay out a set of real, concrete, practical proposals to grow the economy, strengthen the middle class, and empower all who hope to join it." Pfeffier also promised; "It will be an optimistic speech. Thanks to the grit and determination of citizens like you, America has a hard-earned right to that optimism."

The new terms will be "economic opportunities" and "ladders of opportunity," a reference President Obama recently used in at the College Opportunity Summit held at the White House on Thursday, Jan. 16, where he stated; "We have to make sure that there are new ladders of opportunity into the middle class, and that those ladders - the rungs on those ladders are solid and accessible for more people."

President Obama introduced the background and problems associated with economic mobility in a speech delivered on Wednesday, Dec. 4. The President stated economic inequality is the "defining challenge of our time," and "a fundamental threat to the American Dream." The speech is a follow up to the President's Dec. 2011 speech on the economy delivered in Osawatomie, Kansas. At the time a White House aide divulged that the speech includes themes and elements that will be present in the President Obama's upcoming State of the Union Address.

The President took on a different angle to the economy and to the middle class and jobs challenges Americans face, by focusing on the growing problem of economic inequality, and lack of mobility in the United States. Obama emphasized; "This is the defining challenge of our time: making sure our economy works for every working American. That's why I ran for president. It was the center of last year's campaign. It drives everything I do in this office."

In that speech Obama outlined policy solutions that would help; education; higher education with easy access to student aid and universal preschools, manufacturing jobs, higher minimum wage, initiatives to revamp urban and rural communities, break the stigma of "long term unemployment," and ensuring the future of social security. The President will probably reiterate those solutions in his State of the Union Address.

The President will probably reiterate those solutions under the new "economic opportunity" theme in his State of the Union Address. As White House Press Secretary Jay Carney pointed out; "There is always potential for new energy behind older ideas so that they can move forward," If you at first do not succeed, try again has become Obama's mantra when dealing with Congress.

Obama will again ask for Congress to raise the minimum wage, and will ask for a higher minimum that he did in 2013. If Congress was unwilling to pass a nine dollar minimum, it is even more unlikely they go for the $10 minimum Obama is set to ask for.

President Obama plans to unveil a plan in order to keep his promise and help the long term jobless, since an attempt to extend unemployment benefits stalled earlier this month in the Senate when both sides could come to an agreement about paying for the bill's extension. Obama plan according to the White House will "help more job seekers find work."

The President will again push for immigration reform; it is the major piece of legislation he wants passed in his second term. Unlike last year, demanding one sweeping bill with an all or nothing approach, Obama has learned if he wants immigration reform he will have to placate the Republican Congress more, especially since Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH has expressed being open to immigration reform, but with the Republican Congress' terms, meaning allow illegal immigrants to remain in the country, but no guaranteed path to citizenship.

As for gun control reform, with the rash of shootings this past week in universities and a Maryland shopping mall on Saturday, Jan. 25, President Obama might again try to convince Congress that the shootings are out of hand and reforms are needed. Since the President has been pushing gun control reform since 2010 and has consistently "fell upon deaf ears," this year will probably be not much different.

No Obama speech is complete without blaming the Republicans with everything that is wrong in Congress, in Washington and in the country, and this year's State of the Union will be no different and since it is an election year, there will be heavy doses of blame. Obama will chastise and blame the Republicans for legislation he promised in last year's address and failed to pass, including immigration reform, raising the minimum the unemployment benefits extension and of course blame them for the government shutdown for umpteenth time. In that same breath he will essentially demand that Congress raise the debt ceiling limit, not to embarrass the country and face a default on their loans in March.

Obama will then try to embarrass the Republican Congress into passing his economic legislative agenda this year. Recent weekly addresses have been emblazoned with the motto "a year of action," and the President has been clear he will use executive orders to pass his economic agenda when he can, if Congress fails to act. Previously in his weekly address on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 entitled "Making 2014 a Year of Action to Expand Opportunities for the Middle Class," Obama promised; "Where Congress isn't acting, I'll act on my own" even though he did express "I want to work with Congress this year on proven ways to create jobs, like building infrastructure and fixing our broken immigration system."

Supporting the fact that President Obama will make it clear that the President will resort to executive orders to bypass Congress if they balk at his proposed legislation was Pfeiffer in the email to White House supporters sent Saturday, Jan. 25; "In this year of action, the president will seek out as many opportunities as possible to work with Congress in a bipartisan way. But when American jobs and livelihoods depend on getting something done, he will not wait for Congress. President Obama has a pen and he has a phone, and he will use them to take executive action and enlist every American - business owners and workers, mayors and state legislators, young people, veterans, and folks in communities from across the country - in the project to restore opportunity for all."

A lot rides on this year's address because it is a midterm election year, and for President Obama who is perpetually in campaign mode he will be trying to sell his agenda for the upcoming year and working towards helping the Democrats recapture control of the House of Representatives, and help Senate Democrats maintain control of the Senate. President will focus on a lot of themes that may not ever pass Congress, but appeal to Democratic voters, and after will embark on two-day trip to "Prince George's County in Maryland, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Nashville" to sell the programs in his State of the Union Address, and in the process try to boost the Democrats in general ahead of elections in November.

The President needs both Houses of Congress to be in Democratic control in order to pass the remainder of the agenda. In the case that the Democrats cannot gain control of the House, Obama needs to push through as much of legislative priorities before the election sealed the fate on his Presidential influence. Because if the House stays in Republican hands, the stand still on legislation and Obama's agenda will remain the same, and maybe be enforced by an election victory guaranteeing that President Obama will be a lame duck for the last two years of his Presidency.


Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.

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