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Obama to Focus on Middle Class in State of Union Speech


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US-State of Union
Carolyn Kaster/AP
By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama will challenge the Republican-led Congress to back his tax-raising ideas for helping middle-class Americans in a State of the Union speech Tuesday that will set up a tough debate and may impact the 2016 campaign to replace him.

Looking to burnish his legacy with two years left in office, Obama will appear before a joint session of Congress in the well of the House of Representatives at 9 p.m. Eastern time. The speech will be his best opportunity of the year to command the attention of millions of Americans watching on television.

Obama will push a plan to increase taxes by $320 billion over 10 years on the wealthy by closing tax loopholes and imposing a fee on big financial firms. The money would be used to pay for an increase in benefits for the middle class.

Obama's aim is to help those left behind by an economic revival taking hold six years into his tenure, which began with the Democrat facing a crippling financial crisis.

"Now that we have fought our way through the crisis, how do we make sure that everybody in this country, how do we make sure that they are sharing in this growing economy?" Obama said in a White House-produced YouTube video preview of his speech.

Obama's proposals are already being viewed skeptically by Republicans who control both houses of Congress and who are in no mood to raise taxes on anyone.

"More Washington tax hikes and spending is the same, old top-down approach we've come to expect from President Obama that hasn't worked," said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, the top U.S. Republican.

But White House officials are betting that Republicans, also under pressure to help the middle class and needing to prove they can govern, will be willing to compromise on some aspects of the plan.

"So are they going to agree on everything? Absolutely not," senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday. "I think we should have a debate in this country between middle class economics and trickledown economics and see if we can come to an agreement on the things we do agree on."

The proposals are also likely to be the subject of a debate among potential candidates to replace him in 2016, a campaign that is just now getting started.

Obama will take his proposals on the road the next day, traveling to Idaho and Kansas to promote them. And he will be interviewed by three YouTube bloggers.

The speech will also allow Obama to update Americans on the struggle against Islamic extremists, two weeks after 17 people were killed in Paris attacks.

He will defend his decision to seek to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. Alan Gross, the U.S. aid worker whose release from a Cuban prison helped pave the way toward restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba, will be among first lady Michelle Obama's guests for the speech.


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