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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
President Obama has a giant soap box tonight. It's the annual State of the Union Address, one of the biggest opportunities for the president to speak to a primetime audience. This year, it's also a chance for the president to offer a counterweight to the Republican White House hopefuls who've been dominating the airwaves. For a preview of tonight's speech, NPR's Scott Horsley joins me from the White House.
And, Scott, of course, presidential campaign well underway. Tonight's speech is largely a policy address, or are there political overtones as well?
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Overtones, undertones and through tones, I think. There will be policies the president talks about tonight. He's going to talk about steps to encourage manufacturing and domestic energy production. The White House calls this a blueprint for an economy that's built to last. But, you know, you just can't escape the sort of political hothouse that we're in, and that's why the president's re-election campaign has been organizing house parties, where supporters can get together to watch the speech. And it's why over the weekend, Mr. Obama sent a video preview of the speech to his campaign supporters.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is a make or break moment for the middle class and folks trying to work their way into the middle class. Because we can go in two directions: one is towards less opportunity and less fairness, or we can fight for where I think we need to go, building an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few.
HORSLEY: And in that video, Mr. Obama said tonight's speech is a kind of bookend to one he gave last month in Osawatomie, Kansas. That was very much a table setter for the president's re-election campaign.
BLOCK: A table setter that struck a very populist tone, that speech in Osawatomie.
HORSLEY: Yes. He really rekindled some of the themes he'd run on in 2008, namely that we're all in this together, that even though Americans are individualists, we have responsibilities to one another, and that government has a responsibility, not just to get out of the way - as some Republicans would argue - but to create conditions for economic growth.
He pointed to Eisenhower's effort to build the Interstate Highway System, to Abraham Lincoln's Transcontinental Railroads, and he very self-consciously invoked another Republican president Teddy Roosevelt.
BLOCK: Teddy Roosevelt who had spoken in Osawatomie, Kansas, himself, I think, in 1910. One of the things that Teddy Roosevelt pushed for was a progressive income tax. And it will be interesting to see how much we hear about that from the president tonight.
HORSLEY: I think we're going to hear another appeal for Mr. Obama for the wealthy to pay higher taxes, or what he calls their fair share. I doubt very much he will mention Mitt Romney by name, but he will talk about what he perceives as the unfairness of the tax system that allows wealthy investors to pay a lower tax rate in many cases than middle-class families.
This is an issue that the president first raised back in September when he proposed the Buffett Rule, named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett who has complained that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. And, by the way, Warren Buffett's secretary, Debbie Bosanek, will be in the First Ladies' Box for the speech tonight.
BLOCK: And, Scott, the president is speaking to a huge national audience, but it's the members of Congress who are sitting right there in front of him. He has been pretty critical of Congress, talking about a do-nothing Congress that he's going to campaign against. How receptive are lawmakers likely to be to his proposals tonight?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
HORSLEY: That's a good question. You know, the president says that even with all the partisan bickering, he sees opportunities, even now, to work with Congress this year. The White House notes that a lot of lawmakers, including Republican lawmakers, are up for re-election in November and think they will want some kind of progress to show their constituents.
In particular, the president wants to get a year-long extension of that payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance and see some other areas for potential cooperation, investments in public works projects. But so far, there has been very little sign that lawmakers, at least the Republican lawmakers, are eager to work with the president.
And, as you say, if that continues to be the case, then Mr. Obama has promised to go out and campaign against a do-nothing Congress just as Harry Truman did. Now, of course, Harry Truman had a Republican House and Senate to run against. Today, Democrats still control the Senate even if they're often hamstrung by Republicans. So when Mr. Obama takes aim at lawmakers in general, there tend to be some Democratic casualties as well.
BLOCK: And, Scott, after the State of the Union Address tonight, the president hits the road tomorrow.
HORSLEY: Yes. Over the next three days, he'll be traveling to Iowa, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Michigan, all states likely to be important in November.
BLOCK: OK. Scott, thanks so much.
HORSLEY: My pleasure.
BLOCK: That's NPR's Scott Horsley from the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.