Obama To Target 'Deficit Of Trust' In State Of Union
President Obama is expected to acknowledge Wednesday night the deepening cynicism American people feel toward their government, and to call for mending what he called a "deficit of trust" that plagues the nation.
"We face more than a deficit of dollars right now," he is expected to say during his first State of the Union address. "We face a deficit of trust —- deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years."
Focus On Unity, Jobs, Economy
Obama will also talk of a renewed focus on job creation, with a menu of proposed tax cuts and hiring incentives for small businesses and a promise to start reining in government spending at a time when the nation’s unemployment rate remains a stubborn 10 percent.
He is also expected to re-commit to pursuing an overhaul of the nation's health care system — an effort currently stalled on Capitol Hill — and, according to reports, call for a repeal of the controversial ban on openly gay Americans serving in the military.
"By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance," Obama will say, according to excerpts released by the White House. "Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Co-pays will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether."
"I will not walk away from these Americans," the president plans to say. "And neither should the people in this chamber."
In his comments about the nation's economy, the president will exhort Americans to rise to "big and difficult challenges" and to "overcome the numbing weight of our politics," according to speech excerpts.
In language that echoes his speeches of the past, he is expected to seek to create unity among restive Americans by talking about disparate people who share aspirations. And he will issue a call for an end to what he is expected to refer to as the "same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades."
The president said that both Congress and the White House have to work to restore Americans' confidence in their government.
"To close that credibility gap, we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists, to do our work openly and to give our people the government they deserve."
The president is also expected to provide a forceful defense of the work his administration has done to pull the nation's economy back from the brink, including touting jobs saved or created by his $787 billion stimulus package and new growth reported in nation's Gross Domestic product.
He also will give the nation a pep talk, directly appealing to their patriotism and "stubborn resilience" in a time of economic difficulties.
"Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up," the president will say, according to White House excerpts. "We do not quit. We don’t allow fear or division to break our spirit. "
Wooing Skeptical Voters
The president's emphasis on unity, jobs and the economy comes as he faces an increasingly skeptical and divided national audience. Meanwhile, the issue that has topped Obama's ambitious agenda over the past year — overhauling the nation's health care system — is being abandoned even by some members of his own party.
New surveys show that the anxious middle class, alarmed by the nation's historic debt and an incremental economic recovery that hasn't yet eased their circumstances or put a dent in unemployment, are expressing growing doubts about Obama's agenda and its cost, as well as his ability to effect change even while his party controls both chambers of Congress.
It is a reality far different from what the former Illinois senator faced a year ago, when he gave his first major speech as president while riding stratospheric approval ratings. Then, a large majority of Americans saw the nation's first African-American president as someone who not only agreed with them on the issues but could unite a polarized country.
Though still personally popular, Obama's job approval rating has now dipped below 50 percent, and his party recently lost the 60-vote supermajority in the Senate needed to pass his health care overhaul in the face of united GOP opposition.
Perhaps most troubling to the White House: A new survey shows that nearly twice as many Americans believe the president has paid more attention to the problems of banks as Americans who say he has been focused on middle-class issues.
In his speech, Obama is expected to address that perception with a modest menu of initiatives aimed at helping middle-class families, from increasing child care tax credits to increasing support for families caring for elderly relatives.
"Let's invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt," he says in speech excerpts. "Let's meet our responsibility to the people who sent us here."
Leadership And Tone
"This is a leadership moment," says Democratic strategist Scott Parven, who says the president is wise to focus on the "anxious middle class and make the connection between health care reform and the middle class."
"There's a deficit in understanding," says Parven, who is among those who don't want the president to abandon health care reform.
But even Obama's staunchest supporters say that the sausage-making involved in fashioning the health care overhaul has turned off many voters. The latest NPR poll finds that 55 percent of Americans now say they oppose the president's health care proposal.
"People just don't trust Washington," says Gina Glantz, a former national campaign manager for Bill Bradley and former senior adviser to SEIU President Andrew Stern. "Ask people about health care, and they say something should be done, but that Washington will screw it up," she says. "And abandoning it, something you've worked on for a year, doesn't help."
Stay The Course On Agenda?
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that the president would be “feisty" in parts of his speech. But the biggest questions about Wednesday’s address were what tone the president would take and how far he would go to defend his agenda of the past year.
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee told NPR on Tuesday that he'd like the president to say that he has taken too many bites out of too many big apples in his first year. And to focus on "jobs, debt and terror."
Ahead of Wednesday's address, the president angered members of his own party with a call for a three-year freeze on discretionary spending. Obama will need to explain to his supporters how he can continue to advance his agenda under the freeze.
The Democratic-controlled Senate on Tuesday rejected the president's proposal for a bipartisan budget commission to examine ways to adjust the tax code and cut entitlement spending.
Democratic Party stalwarts were particularly incensed by the proposed spending freeze, expected to be outlined in Obama's 2011 budget, to be released Monday. But the White House defended the freeze as targeting programs that don't work or don't fit into the president's top commitments.
"The president's objectives haven't changed," said Rob Nabors, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget during a conference call Tuesday with reporters. "We're not giving up the priorities."
It will just take longer to realize some of the aims, he says.