Obama to push egalitarianism, meritocracy in speech to nation

President Obama will use the first State of the Union address of his second term to push hard for an egalitarian agenda and argue that government can foster an economic recovery.

Obama will seek to align his administration with the middle class, and argue that his policies on taxes, spending, immigration and other issues will help restore a meritocratic America.

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The president will also build on the themes of his second inaugural address last month to say this society should treat everyone equally, regardless of income, race, sex or sexual orientation.

“It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love,” he will say, according to excerpts released from the White House.

It is the responsibility of this generation, the president will say “to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class.”

Obama will argue that government must not only encourage free enterprise and reward individual initiative, but open “the doors of opportunity to every child” in the nation.

The president will devote significant time in his address to the first such showdown of his second term, a battle over the $85 billion in automatic cuts set to implement by the end of the month as part of the sequester.

Obama is expected to argue that implementing the cuts would harm the economy, and to reiterate his call for Congress to replace them with different spending cuts as well as new revenue from ending tax breaks on the wealthy and businesses.

“There’s certainly no reason that middle-class families and small businesses should suffer just because Washington couldn’t come together and eliminate a few special interest tax loopholes, or government programs that just don’t work,” Obama said in his weekly radio address on Saturday. “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.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have signaled that they are not willing to include new revenues in a deal to avert the sequester. In excerpts released of the GOP rebuttal, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) argues that the president's "obsession with raising taxes" will stall the economic growth necessary to propel the middle class.

"Mr. President, I don’t oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich," Rubio plans to say. "I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors."

The president will address the GOP criticism that he is only seeking to add more to the debt head on. 

“Nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime," Obama will say. "It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.” 

The White House has said that Obama remains open to changes to Medicare and the calculation of federal benefits — including the regular increases to Social Security payments — in exchange for a long-term deal that includes new revenues. 

Despite a focus on economic equality, the president is also expected to add meat to the bone of his other policy priorities — using a similar narrative thread to garner populist support for his agenda.

White House officials have described Tuesday's speech as the bookend to last month's inaugural address in which Obama argued for a broad, progressive agenda that included gun control, immigration reform, climate change and gay rights.

Supporters of many of those causes have been invited to join first lady Michelle Obama in her box for the address. They include Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton and Nathaniel A. Pendleton Sr., the parents of a Chicago teenager gunned down last month near the Obama's family home; Brian Murphy, a first responder to the Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek, Wis., last August; and a first grade teacher who worked at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Also appearing in the first lady's box is Alan Aleman, a 20-year-old Nevada man who was one of the first undocumented immigrants to receive a work permit under the president's deferred action policy. His presence is a harbinger of the president's call for Congress to move quickly on the bipartisan immigration plan emerging in the Senate, which Obama plans to highlight Tuesday night.

And 102-year old Desiline Victor, a Florida resident who waited three hours in November to cast her ballot, will be in attendance as a guest of the first lady. President Obama is expected to announce a new initiative aimed at reducing problems at the polls in his address.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said earlier this week that the president views the speeches “as two acts in the same play,” and that the State of the Union would turn Obama’s focus to the economy and jobs.

“You will hear in the President's State of the Union an outline from him for his plan to create jobs and grow the middle class,” Carney said Monday, adding that the "core emphasis" would be “the need to make the economy work.”

The president will look to build off his proposals during a three-day cross-country trip kicking off Wednesday, with a visit to an auto parts manufacturer in Asheville, N.C. On Thursday, he'll discuss the economy at an Air Force Base outside of Atlanta, and on Friday, the White House expects Obama to speak on gun control at an event in Chicago.

Those events trips pair with an aggressive social media and advertising push planned by the White House and allies in the hours and days after the speech. 

The president is particularly eager to inspire quick legislative action on these priorities, an implicit acknowledgment that the window of opportunity quickly closes for second term presidents. With members of the House less than two years away from midterm elections — and the unofficial kickoff to the 2016 presidential campaign — the White House knows that there is limited opportunity to achieve significant policy changes.

This story was posted at 6:06 p.m. and updated at 7:38 p.m.