Obama Makes Case for Fairness; GOP Calls It Rehash

By: Ben Feller, Associated Press
By: Ben Feller, Associated Press

Washington, D.C. (AP) - President Barack Obama is promising the nation an economy that gives a shot to everyone and not just the rich, using Tuesday night's State of the Union address to draw an election-year battle line with Republicans over fairness and the free market. Driving everything about the speech: jobs, including his own.

Overshadowed for weeks by the fierce race of the Republicans seeking his job, for one night Obama had a grand stage to himself.

He planned to pitch his plans to a bitterly divided Congress and to a country underwhelmed by his handling of the economy. Targeting anxiety about a slumping middle class, Obama was calling for the rich to pay more in taxes. Every proposal was to be underlined by the idea that hard work and responsibility still count.

Tens of millions of people were expected to watch on television, turning an always-political speech into Obama's best chance yet to sell his vision for another four years.

For an incumbent on the attack about income inequality, the timing could not be better.

Ahead of Obama's 9 p.m. EST speech, Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney released his tax returns under political pressure, revealing that he earned nearly $22 million in 2010 and paid an effective tax rate of about 14 percent. That's a lesser rate than many Americans pay because of how investment income is taxed in the United States.

Obama, though, has his own considerable messaging challenges three years into his term.

The economy is improving, but unemployment still stands at the high rate of 8.5 percent. More than 13 million people are out of work. Government debt stands at $15.2 trillion, a record, and up from $10.6 trillion when he took office. Most Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

Obama's relations with Republicans in Congress are poor, casting huge doubt on any of his major ideas for the rest of this year. Republicans control the House and have the votes to stall matters in the Senate, although Obama has tried to take the offensive since a big jobs speech in September and a slew of executive actions ever since.

"It's hard not to feel a sense of disappointment even before tonight's speech is delivered," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. "The goal isn't to conquer the nation's problems. It's to conquer Republicans. The goal isn't to prevent gridlock, but to guarantee it."

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has called the themes of Obama's speech a "pathetic" rehash of unhelpful policies.

The State of the Union remains one of the most closely watched moments in American politics. Despite the political atmosphere in Washington, the scene is expected to have at least one unifying touch. Outgoing Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt a year ago, is expected to attend with her colleagues. Her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, was attending as a guest of first lady Michelle Obama.

Obama's tone was under as much scrutiny as his proposals.

He was aiming to find all the right balances: offering outreach to Republicans while sharpening his competing vision, outlining re-election themes without overtly campaigning and pledging to work with Congress even as he presses a campaign to act without it.

The context was set not just by the re-election year, but by the awful past year of partisan breakdowns in Washington. The government neared both a shutdown and, even worse, a default on its obligations for the first time in history.

Less than 10 months before Election Day, the presidential race is shaping up as a contest between unmistakably different views of the economy and the role of government.

Obama is campaigning on the idea of helping people at least get a fair shot at a job, a house, a career and a better life. Republicans say he and his philosophy have become a crushing burden on free enterprise and that the president is resorting to what amounts to class warfare to get elected again.

Obama's speech was to feature manufacturing, clean energy, education and American values. He was to unveil new proposals to address the housing crisis that has left many people trapped, and he planned to promote steps to make college education more affordable.

The president was planning a traditional rundown on the state of American security and foreign policy - and a reminder that he kept a promise to end the Iraq war.

But his driving focus was to secure faith in the economic recovery and in voters' confidence that he is getting the country on the right path.

Obama planned to renew his call for his "Buffet Rule" - a principle that millionaires should not pay a lower tax rate than typical workers. While middle-income filers fall in the 15 or 25 percent bracket, and millionaires face a 35 percent tax bracket, those who get their income from investments - not a paycheck - pay 15 percent.

The president named his idea after billionaire Warren Buffet, who says it is unfair that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does. The White House invited Buffett's secretary, Debbie Bosanek, to attend the State of the Union as a special guest.

Obama was to outline a tax system "where everybody is paying their fair share," said senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

And then for three days following his speech, Obama will promote his ideas in five states key to his re-election bid. On Wednesday he'll visit Iowa and Arizona to promote ideas to boost American manufacturing; on Thursday in Nevada and Colorado he'll discuss energy, and in Michigan on Friday he'll talk about college affordability, education and training.

Polling shows Americans are divided about Obama's overall job performance but unsatisfied with his handling of the economy.

The speech Tuesday night comes just one week before the Florida Republican primary that could help set the trajectory for the rest of the race.

Romney, caught up in a tight contest with a resurgent Newt Gingrich, commented in advance to Obama's speech.

"Tonight will mark another chapter in the misguided policies of the last three years - and the failed leadership of one man," Romney said from Florida.

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  • by Sara Location: Tallahassee on Jan 25, 2012 at 08:46 AM
    Someone needs to clue Obama into the fact that it isn't FAIR for people to be rewarded for being good for nothing. Worse than that, for bringing illegitimate babies into the world, each with a different father, who they have no intention to properly raise, therefore increasing the # of good for nothings in the country. Then the "wealthy", which for people like Obama means anyone willing to work, will just pay more and more taxes so this nonsense can continue, and increase. Does this make sense to anyone with a brain? Of course not, that's why it has to stop!
  • by Gerry Location: Tallahassee on Jan 24, 2012 at 05:33 PM
    Why would somebody be be using the name Gerry besides me? Is it because I am so ineffective? That must be it. He's trying to help me. Class warfare occurs when Republicans subvert public education at every level and disenfranchise US citizens. Republicans also promise the 1% they will always be the 1%, i.e., Republicans promise to do away with class mobility. Your kids and grandkids will never be part of the 1% no matter how hard you and they work.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jan 25, 2012 at 02:51 PM in reply to Gerry
      When BHO changes the class structure due to his personal interpretation of how this country should be set up politically he starts class warfare. Class warfare begins when the lines are crossed, people feel they cannot improve the course of their lives, when power hungry rulers take rights and resources away, when a sense of independence is robbed from them, etc...Sort of like the eve of the French Revolution when a ruler ignored the concerns of the common people with the phrase "Let them eat cake..." We are very close to that point where the citizens stormed the Bastille. Big government is sustaining over 47 million Americans with food stamps now. Do you like those numbers? I don't. Do you like being told what sort of healthcare you are allowed to have? Whether you can have certain procedures or not? Whether your life is worth saving? Whether you have adequate resources for retirement? Etc...how much of your independence are you will to give up? You should have watched the interview with George Soros on CNBC today. His eyes lit up when talking about the state of the US and global economies while promoting his latest book. Soros, a major campaign contributor for BHO. The same man reported to have broken the Bank of England. These are the things you should be watching Gerry not being distracted by partisan political distractions. This is a good reason why BHO should only have a one term presidency. BHO is only there to help himself and his monetary backers not the common people.
  • by Gerry on Jan 24, 2012 at 02:58 PM
    I voted for Obama because he said he would be bi-partisan and work with Republicans. Our country has never been more divided politically and now he is starting class warfare. This is rehash and empty promises
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jan 24, 2012 at 05:12 PM in reply to Gerry
      Gerry he lied then, and he is still lying. Maybe you can get in touch with Larry and talk some sense in to him.
    • reply
      by Gerry on Jan 25, 2012 at 12:24 AM in reply to Gerry
      I've never said I voted for Obama. I couldn't prove I voted for him and I couldn't prove I didn't vote for him, so it doesn't sound to me like I would say either. I've also never suggested that somebody vote for Obama.
  • by not worth doodly squat on Jan 24, 2012 at 02:46 PM
    This guy will say anything that he thinks the people want to hear. He is so full of bulls*&%. He has got to go in the next election.
  • by Larry on Jan 24, 2012 at 02:41 PM
    fairness? The right wing is critical. Unfairness? The right wing is also critical. Whatever Obama says or does, the Rush and Sean disciples will be critical and hateful. How can people live their lives with such hate?
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jan 24, 2012 at 05:12 PM in reply to Larry
      BHO's speech about fairness is ridiculous and was not worth watching. Let's face it, until people are employed again and the economy has turned around it is only a rip off game for special interest groups. Some of us do not watch Rush or Sean but look around our neighborhood block to see people unemployed and homes in foreclosure. This is reality not what a pumped up ego centric power hungry political figure says you should perceive as being politically correct. It does not matter what party it is Larry.
    • reply
      by anon on Jan 24, 2012 at 05:12 PM in reply to Larry
      Larry, get your head out of the sand. This man is doing his best to destroy what little hope we have of coming back to the greatness we once where.If he get four more years we can kiss it good by.
    • reply
      by Gerry on Jan 24, 2012 at 05:23 PM in reply to Larry
      If Obama hadn't promised everything to everyone to get elected then he might be able to fulfill his promises. As it now stands he appears as what he is.... an inexperienced community activist trying to lead the free world. Did you really think that someone with no experience could lead the world? Facts that are true are fair even if you do not like them.
    • reply
      by dog on Jan 24, 2012 at 05:35 PM in reply to Larry
      But you hate the 1% . and oboma Hates America.
      • reply
        by Gerry on Jan 25, 2012 at 12:26 AM in reply to dog
        Good one, dog. He's been Prez for more than 3 years and you still can't spell his name. Or were you being witty?
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