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Obama Aims to Put GOP on Defense in State of the Union Address

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address to pressure Republicans to avoid automatic spending cuts set to hit next month while proposing a host of new economic, energy and education initiatives sure to please his base.

The president asked Congress to work with him, telling the nation that the economy is poised for growth if politicians in Washington, D.C., don’t commit any more self-inflicted wounds.

Indeed, Obama aims to put Republicans in a box. They will own the sequester if they refuse to compromise on more tax revenue from the wealthy and corporations, according to a senior administration official — even as the GOP, in turn, tries to hang it on the White House.

“Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is strong,” Obama said.

But, he said, too many people still need jobs, even as corporate profits have hit all-time highs.

“It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth — a rising, thriving middle class. 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.”

Obama called the sequester’s cuts “a really bad idea” but he said making even bigger cuts to education, job training, Medicare and Social Security benefits would be worse.

“We can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful,” Obama said.

It’s the same fairness message the president has been using for two years, and a senior administration official said that either Republicans will cave — as they did in December on letting tax rates go up on the wealthy — or they will be held responsible for every kid who gets kicked out of Head Start programs, every related layoff and all of the damage to the economy.

Obama made an appeal to avoid the serial budget crises that have dominated Washington over the past two years.

“Let’s agree, right here, right now, to keep the people’s government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America,” he said, knowing full well another shutdown showdown looms next month, followed by another debt ceiling hike come May. Like many of his lines, the appeal got a healthy response from Democrats, less so from the GOP.

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