WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama will be looking across a vast partisan divide Tuesday night as he reports to Congress and the nation, hoping he can bend recalcitrant lawmakers to join him in a second-term drive to boost taxes to raise government spending power and to reform laws on gun ownership and immigration.
The annual State of the Union speech, which is closely monitored as the presidential blueprint for his goals for the year, is expected to push for the ambitious progressive plans Obama outlined in his second inaugural address three weeks ago. The president's priorities also include easing back on spending cuts and addressing climate change.
Aware of the partisan gridlock gripping Washington, Obama is banking on his popularity and the political capital from his convincing re-election in November as he calls on Americans to join him in persuading opposition lawmakers to stop stonewalling his vision for what he calls a fairer country with greater opportunity for all.
With Republicans in control of the House of Representatives and exerting influence in the Senate, Obama intends to employ all the tools at his disposal in an effort to win over the public to put pressure on Congress.
Obama plans immediately afterward to make a two-day, three-state foray to take his message directly to the American people. Congress fought the president to a near standstill on virtually every White House initiative during his first term -- though he succeeded in overhauling the health care system. In his second term, Obama has decided that he may stand a better chance of moving his agenda through Congress by garnering support from outside the capital rather than from within.
Massive federal spending cuts that will hit the U.S. economy on March 1 if a compromise isn't hammered out with Congress will surely color Obama's speech like nothing else. Some economists predict those cuts, known as the sequester, could push the United States back into recession even before it has fully recovered from the Great Recession -- the most serious economic downturn in more than 70 years.
The cuts will slice deeply into spending for the Pentagon and a range of social programs. Obama says he wants "a balanced approach" to tackling the spiraling deficit with a mix of increased tax revenue and cuts in spending.
The opposition declares it will not give ground on raising taxes, insisting that revamping the tax code to close loopholes that benefit the wealthiest Americans and the corporate sector is not open for consideration.
And while the sequester, which grew out of a failure to reach a deal in 2011, was conceived as a budget bludgeon unacceptable to both parties, some Republicans now are threatening to let it go forward if Obama does not agree to big cuts in the so-called social safety net programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, which provide health care and other assistance to the elderly and poor, as well as Social Security retirement benefits.
Obama also was expected to refocus on creating jobs in a country where the unemployment rate remains at nearly 8 percent. He failed to address the issue in any depth in his inaugural address, leaving his political opponents an opening to criticize him for ignoring an issue of over-riding importance.
Obama also is deeply invested in pushing for new laws aimed at curbing gun violence. Spurred by the mass shooting in December at a Connecticut school that killed 20 children and six adults, Obama and like-minded Democrats are pushing for tougher regulations requiring universal background checks for gun buyers and bans on military-style assault weapons and high-volume ammunition magazines. He will no doubt return to the issue Tuesday night and again in his travels over the next two days in the face of angry opposition from the National Rifle Association gun rights lobbying group, many Republicans and even some moderate Democrats who claim any change in gun laws would violate the Constitution's Second Amendment guarantee of the right to bear arms.
To underscore the president's position, first lady Michelle Obama will sit with the parents of a Chicago teenager shot and killed just days after she performed at the president's inauguration. Twenty-two House members have invited people affected by gun violence. Republican Rep. Steve Stockman says he's invited rocker Ted Nugent, a long-time gun control opponent who last year said he would end up "dead or in jail" if Obama won re-election.
Another presidential priority -- and possibly the most likely to succeed in getting passed by Congress -- is granting illegal residents a pathway to citizenship as part of an overhaul immigration reform. The initiative is deeply unpopular in many House Republicans' districts. But it has the support of some prominent Republican lawmakers who understand that their party needs to soften its stance on immigration if it is to win crucial Hispanic votes.
Obama will face continuing opposition to any proposal he puts forward in an effort to curb climate change. Given that any major climate bill is unlikely to pass the divided Congress, the White House has said Obama intends to move forward on issuing rules to control carbon emissions from power plants as a central part of a second-term effort to slow down climate change, which the president rarely talked about after global-warming legislation failed in his first term. Obama is expected to rely increasingly on his executive authority to achieve whatever progress he makes on climate change.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a fast-rising Republican star, was picked by the party's mainstream leadership to give its traditional response immediately after Obama speaks. The first-term Cuban-American senator is seen as a potential 2016 presidential candidate. Sen. Rand Paul of the Republicans' tea party wing, a loose amalgam of lawmakers determined above all else to shrink government and lower taxes, plans to give an unofficial response.