Echoing the mantra of 2012 presidential campaign, Obama aides say that pocketbook issues are the most important thing on the president’s agenda in the coming months.
As he speaks before Congress on Tuesday, and then travels around the country after the speech, top on his to-do list will be economic expansion for the middle class and those who aspire to it.
That doesn’t mean the elements of his recent inaugural speech won’t come into play. Obama three weeks ago described a vision of the country that sounded like a declaration of liberal values.
He talked about fighting gun violence and climate change. Reelected in no small measure because of the support of Latino voters, Obama also talked about the importance of reforming the nation’s immigration policy to legalize the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country.
Administration officials compare the inaugural address to the first act of a two-act play, saying the president will also talk about the themes he raised in the January address during the February one.
Many of Obama’s fellow Democrats in Congress are focused on particular items in that inaugural address. At least two dozen House Democrats are bringing guests to the speech who are victims of gun violence, hoping to highlight the push for new gun control measures.
Several guests will tell their personal stories at a news conference on the afternoon of the speech.
The peripheral messages around the State of the Union are also likely to highlight the same cause. First Lady Michelle Obama is traveling to Chicago this weekend to attend the funeral of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was fatally shot last week not far from the Obama family’s South Side home.But the president’s speech will tie his various agenda items together under the common cause of economic prosperity.
"I think he's likely to talk about the budget issues … but in the context of our values," Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, told reporters at the conclusion of the House Democratic retreat Friday.
Even issues like immigration fall under the economic theme, Van Hollen said, predicting that Obama would discuss the issue "in the context of reaching our full potential in this country economically."
Van Hollen said that even as lawmakers address long-term deficits, "we do it in a way that doesn't hurt economic growth now or in the future." He called the automatic federal budget cuts set to be triggered on March 1 by the so-called sequester "mindless" and "arbitrary."
"That is the austerity plan a la Europe, and we don't want to follow their example," he said.
In his Saturday radio address, Obama argued that Congress should work with him to avoid the automatic spending cuts, saying that they would be devastating to the economy.
“At a time when economists and business leaders from across the spectrum have said that our economy is poised for progress, we shouldn’t allow self-inflicted wounds to put that progress in jeopardy,” Obama said. “So my message to Congress is this: Let’s keep working together to solve this problem.”
On Wednesday, the day after the speech, Obama will travel to Asheville, N.C., and on Thursday he will head to the Atlanta area. The White House has not yet provided specific information on those events.