WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama plans to mark the beginning of a politically divided Congress with a State of the Union speech stressing shared responsibility for reining in the deficit and boosting the country's capacity to compete with foreign economic rivals, according to two Democratic officials.
Obama will seek to use the nationally televised Jan. 25 address to pivot from the response to the financial crisis that occupied much of the first two years of his presidency to a vision of how to meet longer-range economic challenges, the White House has told congressional allies.
As a preview, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs pointed to a Dec. 6 speech Obama gave in Winston-Salem, N.C., in which the president called the competition from rising economies such as China, South Korea and India “our generation’s Sputnik moment” – a reference to the Soviet Union’s launch of the first satellite in 1957, ahead of the U.S.
“The most important contest we face is not between Democrats and Republicans,” Obama said in that speech. “It’s between America and our economic competitors all around the world.”
White House allies have been told not to expect a detailed budget plan in the speech, though the president will call for tough choices and may offer examples. Building on the competitiveness theme, he will call for investment in “innovation, education and infrastructure” and is likely to cite funding for high-speed rail that was included in the $814 billion economic-stimulus package, allies have been told.
Continuing his outreach to business Friday, Obama named GE Chairman Jeffrey Immelt on Friday to head a new panel that will advise him on ways to help the private sector create jobs.
Immelt will chair the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, which will replace another group of outside economic advisers led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. The Volcker panel, which was temporary, is set to expire next month.
The move suggests a shift in the White House’s approach as the president switches from a panel and chairman aimed at regulating financial markets to a new group of advisers charged with finding ways to help business.
His post-election courting of business has included:
• A new order to make sure that federal regulators consider how their actions will cost business.
• Hiring a new chief of staff, William Daley, a Chicago political operative and former JPMorgan executive who’s familiar with and popular with CEOs.
• Hiring Bruce Reed as the new chief of staff for Vice President Joe Biden. Reed’s a former CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council, a centrist group that unions have criticized as too pro-business and that Obama himself had shunned in the past.
• A new tax cut for business investment along with an extension of tax reductions for those with the highest incomes.