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Obama to call for equal opportunity for all

By Dan Lothian, Jessica Yellin and Tom Cohen, CNN
updated 6:29 PM EST, Tue January 24, 2012
Democratic sources briefed on the draft of President Obama's State of the Union speech say it will describe a
Democratic sources briefed on the draft of President Obama's State of the Union speech say it will describe a "blueprint for an economy that's built to last."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Obama delivers the State of the Union address at 9 p.m. Eastern
  • Republicans already are panning the speech as recycled failed policies
  • Obama will call keeping alive the American dream "the defining issue of our time"

Washington (CNN) -- In what could be his final State of the Union address, President Barack Obama on Tuesday will call keeping alive the American dream "the defining issue of our time" and pledge to fight obstruction by congressional Republicans.

The speech to a joint sitting of Congress is an annual evening of political pageantry, but the stakes are higher this year with Obama's re-election on the line in November.

According to excerpts released in advance by the White House, Obama will frame the challenges facing the country as a choice between opportunity for some or giving everyone a chance to prosper.

"The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive," the president will say, according to the excerpts. "No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules."

Obama will say that "what's at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values," adding: "We have to reclaim them."

Obama intends to lay out an ambitious set of policy proposals for the final year of his first term, his top aides say.

Obama to challenge Congress in speech

At the same time, the address also is a political opportunity for Obama to present his re-election message as a choice between two different visions for the future of the country and the role of government.

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"Think about the America within our reach: A country that leads the world in educating its people," Obama will say, according to the excerpts. "An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs. A future where we're in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren't so tied to unstable parts of the world. An economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded."

At the same time, Obama will repeat his readiness to work with Republicans to build on economic recovery that has started but still struggles to take off.

"But I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place," Obama will say.

He also will reject any efforts to "go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits," according to the excerpts.

Read a pre-release transcript of the speech

"Let's never forget: Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that does the same," Obama will say. "It's time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts. An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody."

Republican opponents who vow to reverse his major policy achievements from his first three years in office .

The speech to a joint sitting of Congress is an annual evening of political pageantry, but the stakes are higher this year with Obama's re-election on the line in November.

Republicans including candidates to take on Obama in November already were panning the speech before its delivery, saying they expected few new ideas or sincere efforts by the president to end the partisan gridlock in Washington.

House Speaker John Boehner accused Obama of being absent from governing since as far back as Labor Day in September.

"They've been in full campaign mode since then and I expect tonight we'll see more of the same," Boehner told reporters Tuesday, adding that Obama's State of the Union speech was "written by the campaign."

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Obama's speech will avoid talking about economic problems under his leadership.

"The president will do what he does best. He'll give a nice speech, a lot of memorable phrases in it, but he won't give you the hard numbers like 9.9% unemployment here in Florida," Romney said at a campaign event in Tampa. "... Instead, tonight President Obama will make the opening argument for his campaign against a do-nothing Congress."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is surging in polls after his primary victory Saturday in South Carolina, said at a campaign event in Sarasota, Florida, that if elected president, his first acts would be to sign executive orders undoing policies of the Obama administration.

"Our goal is, in the executive orders that we sign on the first day, that by the time President Obama lands in Chicago, we will have dismantled about 40% of his administration," Gingrich said to cheers.

A preview of Obama's speech to supporters made the economy a principal theme.

In what he called a "blueprint for an American economy that's built to last," the president said in a video released by his campaign that manufacturing, energy, education and values would be the foundation for building an "economy that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few."

A Democratic source briefed on the current draft of the State of the Union gave CNN a view of what will be proposed:

• A tax code that lets the Bush tax cuts expire and the wealthy pay more

• More refinancing for homeowners in trouble

• Additional tax breaks for companies that create jobs in the United States

• More clean energy incentives

• Enhanced education and job training initiatives

• A renewed call for the Buffett Rule, a minimum tax rate for the wealthiest Americans

• The creation of a China task force to monitor trade violations

Obama and Democrats want to avoid the November election being a referendum on the president and his stewardship of the economy.

Instead, they want a contrast campaign between a GOP they can define as allied with wealthy interests -- the same kind of forces that brought the economy to its knees in 2008 -- versus a president who will fight for regular working Americans.

Obama will draw on themes from the Kansas speech he delivered in early December that focused on restoring equal opportunity for all, rather than an economy where the wealthy and reckless such as irresponsible Wall Street investors get ahead.

Democratic sources acknowledge that to succeed in November, Obama has to make the case that his policies have begun to make a difference, with the economy showing signs of improvement.

According to the administration, the economy has added nearly 3.2 million private sector jobs over the last 22 months, and American manufacturing is creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s. The American auto industry is coming back, adding 100,000 jobs in the last year, and U.S. oil production is at the highest level in eight years.

Republicans argue that Obama's policies have stymied growth by increasing regulations and delaying opportunities such as the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada in order to appease some of his liberal support base.

Among the president's unmet promises from last year's address are pledges to increase investment in clean energy, take action on the status of illegal immigrants, fund new infrastructure projects, overhaul social security, and let the Bush tax cuts on the highest income bracket expire.

The president submitted proposals to Congress addressing some of his 2011 pledges, including on infrastructure spending and the tax cuts, but Republicans promptly rejected those measures. On other issues, including entitlement reform, a simplification to the tax code, and addressing illegal immigration, no concrete plan from the White House ever reached Congress.

But the White House can point to some concrete achievements outlined in last year's address. These include the passage of trade deals with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia; an end to the war in Iraq, and a repeal of the "1099 provision" that was said to burden small businesses' bookkeeping efforts relating to health care coverage.

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