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Obama to challenge Republicans to help middle class grow

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Posted at 8:04 PM, Feb 12, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-12 20:04:54-05
WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama will challenge Congress to join him in taking on “our generation’s task” to ignite the growth of a “rising, thriving middle class” in the first State of the Union speech of his second term, according to excerpts released by the White House.

“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 will say Tuesday night, sounding familiar themes from his re-election campaign last year.

The president will emphasize economic growth and job creation, adding that “nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime,” according to the excerpts.

It will be the fourth State of the Union address for Obama, and analysts consider it a crucial moment for setting the tone for the political dialogue after four years of partisan division and congressional dysfunction.

A hard-line stance by Obama on deficit reduction after forcing Republicans to concede already on tax increases could poison the prospects for the comprehensive deal he says he wants, CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen noted.

“The window for achieving a grand bargain has been closing rapidly and could slam shut Tuesday night,” Gergen wrote.

Obama’s address comes amid breaking news around the world that touched on the challenges facing his government and the nation.

A suspected North Korean nuclear test and a gun battle involving an alleged cop killer dominated headlines in the hours before the speech.

Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial average closed at its highest level since 2007, exceeding the 14,000 mark, even though unemployment continued to hover near 8%.

According to a source close to the president, the speech was finished Tuesday afternoon and will run a little over an hour.

Sources close to the administration described an address of familiar themes and proposals from his first term and last year’s successful election campaign, including deficit reduction steps that promote economic equality and more spending on infrastructure, education and other areas viewed by the president as vital for growth.

“You can expect the State of the Union to be very consistent with what the president has been saying for years,” according to talking points on the speech that the White House provided to Democratic surrogates.

Obama also will continue his push for Congress to act on politically volatile issues such as immigration reform and gun violence, the talking points showed.

In addition, the news of the day will influence the speech.

A senior administration official said Obama was expected to mention North Korea’s latest underground nuclear test, which the State Department labeled “provocative” and “extremely regrettable.”

With victims of gun violence in the audience at the U.S. Capitol, including former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Obama was expected to continue his push for tighter gun laws in the aftermath of the December shootings at a Connecticut elementary school that killed 20 first-graders.

The parents of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, the Chicago girl killed by gun violence after returning home from taking part in inauguration activities in Washington, will be guests of first lady Michelle Obama, who attended her funeral.

Also attending will be former rock star Ted Nugent, a vocal critic of Obama and any efforts to strengthen gun controls in America.

Meanwhile, authorities in California chased fugitive Christopher Jordan Dorner, who allegedly wounded two sheriff’s deputies in a shootout Tuesday.

The renegade ex-Los Angeles police officer has been on the run since last week, when he was named as the suspect in the shooting deaths of the daughter of his police union representative and her fiance.

Police also say he killed one police officer in Riverside and wounded two others on February 7.

On foreign policy, Obama will announce that this time next year, another 34,000 U.S. troops will have returned home from Afghanistan, according to a source with knowledge of the address.

The move will reduce by more than half the current force level of 66,000 troops in Afghanistan. Obama and NATO previously announced that Afghan forces will take the lead in combat missions this year.

By the end of 2014, the planned official end of the combat mission, the White House is considering a range of troop levels for Afghanistan, from as many as 15,000 down to zero.

One thing Obama won’t mention Tuesday night is new regulations on carbon emissions for existing power plants a senior administration official said. Environmentalists hoped the president’s pledge in his recent inaugural address for increased steps in response to climate change would include expanding tougher standards in place for new power plants to those already in existence.

However, a new measure from the president will be an executive order signed Tuesday to address the country’s most basic cybersecurity needs.

The order will make it easier for private companies in control of our nation’s critical infrastructure to share information about cyberattacks with the government. In return, the Department of Homeland Security will share “sanitized” classified information with companies about attacks believed to be occurring or that are about to take place.

The president will also issue minimum standards for companies to protect themselves from cybercrime, though there is nothing in the order about how this will be enforced.

Congress has failed so far to pass any of the dozens of cybersecurity bills aimed at meaningfully securing critical infrastructure from an online criminals.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a tea party favorite considered the new face of the Republican Party due to his Hispanic heritage and strong communications skills, will deliver the GOP response.

In excerpts released in English and Spanish, Rubio said Obama’s policies called for more deficit spending and higher taxes that would hurt those the president claimed to want to help.