January 20, 2015
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama will propose to hike taxes on the wealthy in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, an idea already panned by Republicans in Congress who want him to aggressively pursue trade deals with Asia and Europe.
Obama has said he wants to reach out to Republicans who support trade deals his administration has pursued, over the objections of some of his fellow Democrats, and could push for fast-track trade negotiating authority in his speech at 9 p.m. EST.
RELATED STORIES: State of the Union: 7 things to know
"If President Obama can be more forward-leaning with members of his party, starting with tonight's State of the Union address, I think we can get this (fast-track authority) done quickly. That is what I am committed to do," said Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Obama also will propose boosting middle class benefits through tax increases on the wealthy and financial firms adding up to $320 billion over 10 years.
That idea is popular with Democrats, who are looking beyond Obama's tenure to 2016 elections. But it seems dead on arrival with Republicans who control both houses of Congress.
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. He has said trade deals could help expand markets for American goods and services.
Looking to burnish his legacy with two years left in office, Obama's speech will be his best opportunity of the year to command the attention of millions of Americans watching on television.
The speech will also allow Obama to update Americans on the threat of Islamic extremists, two weeks after 17 people were killed in attacks in France.
Republicans and others criticized the White House for not sending a top American official to a unity march in Paris, where other countries sent their leaders and other high-ranking officials to walk arm-in-arm with French President Francois Hollande.
Obama's Chief of Staff Denis McDonough accepted blame for the uproar on Tuesday. "We regret we didn't send someone more senior than our ambassador, that rests on me. That's my job," he said, speaking on NBC's "Today" program.
Obama also 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 Michelle Obama's guests for the speech.
Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, and Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American who is a potential presidential candidate in 2016, have invited Cuban dissidents who oppose Obama's move.
The White House has taken some of the suspense away from the speech this year, sending Obama on the road during the past two weeks to roll out themes he plans to highlight, like the need to beef up cybersecurity and invest in infrastructure.
Obama will travel to Idaho and Kansas this week to continue to promote his ideas.