WASHINGTON -- When he steps before a bicameral gathering of Congress next Tuesday night to deliver his fourth State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama will attempt to channel the populist messages of Teddy Roosevelt, according to sources familiar with the designs of the speech.
Obama's address is being kept tightly under wraps and the specific language is likely to be worked and re-worked until hours, if not minutes, before he walks into the House of Representatives chamber. Sources familiar with the planning have, however, signaled that the speech will hammer home now-familiar points: that the country is facing increasing economic inequality and the government should take action to protect the middle class. The idea is not necessarily to break new ground, but to reaffirm the philosophy that ran all through the president's Dec. 6 speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, a speech modeled after a historic address by President Theodore Roosevelt.
A look back at that speech provides hints as to what to expect to come Tuesday.
"I'm here to reaffirm my deep conviction that we are greater together than we are on our own," Obama said in Osawatomie, where, in 1910, Roosevelt delivered his "New Nationalism" speech on economic and social equality that led into 20th century progressivism. "I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, and when everyone plays by the same rules. Those aren't Democratic or Republican values; 1 percent values or 99 percent values. They're American values, and we have to reclaim them."
While fairness will be a central theme of the State of the Union address -- the word appears 15 times in the Kansas speech -- the specific policy proposals remain murky. Job creation and economic growth "will certainly be a topic," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a Wednesday briefing. Obama will also likely push Congress to pass the remaining pieces of the American Jobs Act, whether it be provisions relating to infrastructure investments or putting teachers and first responders back to work. Carney said the president is optimistic that Republican cooperation "could be forthcoming this year" on that front.
One other topic being explored by those planning the speech is housing. David Abromowitz, a housing expert with the Center for American Progress, said he doesn't know what will be in the speech but that the "central connection between the economy and the housing market is obvious." He said there are two aspects of housing policy that make the most sense for Obama to highlight.
"The easiest place for them to push forward is on making refinancing easier for people who are already paying their mortgages," Abromowitz said. "To put it differently, the biggest middle-class tax cut achievable is a lot smaller than letting 30 million households save a couple of thousand dollars a year by being able to refinance."
In addition, Obama will likely talk about converting foreclosed homes into occupied rental units. The government is currently sitting on 250,000 vacant foreclosed homes, said Abromowitz, and it has gotten lots of input from private sector and nonprofits on how to convert them into rentals.
"There are hints that agencies are going to announce something later in the month," he said. "So getting that out in the State of the Union is an easy place to announce progress forward, in the spirit of doing what the administration can do without waiting for Congress."
Amanda Terkel contributed to this report.