(Reuters) – President Barack Obama, offering a glimpse of next week’s State of the Union address, made clear on Saturday that he will deliver a starkly partisan election-year call for a “return to American values” of economic fairness.
“I’m going to lay out a blueprint for an American economy that’s built to last,” Obama said in a campaign video sent to supporters. “And most importantly, a return to American values of fairness for all, and responsibility from all.”
A reference to values is usually political code for social and religious issues, a rallying cry for conservative Republicans who want to deny the Democratic president a second White House term in November.
But Obama, who delivers his annual State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday night, is running for re-election on his claim of being a champion for the middle class, while trying to paint Republicans as the party for the rich.
“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 a wealthy few,” Obama said.
He is expected to use the speech to repeat calls for higher taxes on the wealthy, tax breaks to bring American manufacturing jobs home, steps to aid the housing market, and another nudge to China on currency flexibility to aid U.S. exports.
Republicans, who were holding a closely watched primary election in South Carolina on Saturday to help select their nominee to face Obama, say he is an old-fashioned tax-and-spend liberal whose policies hurt business and jobs.
Obama’s suggestions are therefore unlikely to make much headway in Congress, where Republicans control the House of Representatives.
Attacking congressional Republicans on their own turf, during a prime-time televised joint session of Congress, signals a de-emphasis on appeals for cooperation that have marked Obama’s previous State of the Union addresses.
Obama campaigned in 2008 on a message of reaching across the political aisle to change the way that Washington works, but now complains that Republicans have obstructed his efforts to collaborate and are only interested in seeing him fail.
Republicans say they oppose his policies because they view them as bad for the country, and say they are willing to work with the president on areas of genuine common ground.
Polls show Americans are fed up with gridlock in Washington, but tend to blame congressional Republicans more than the president for the state of affairs.
Obama said he would focus on American manufacturing “with more good jobs and more products stamped with Made in America,” American energy, and skills for American workers as key parts of his plans for the economy.
“They’re big ideas, because we’ve got to meet this moment. And this speech is going to be about how we do it,” he said.
He is expected to emphasize incentives to encourage lenders to refinance underwater mortgages, which would ease a crucial obstacle to a recovery in housing and the broader economy.
He has also said he will put forward tax breaks to reward companies that bring jobs home to the United States, while eliminating tax benefits that outsource jobs overseas, and has repeatedly stressed wealthy Americans should pay more in taxes.
Obama has proposed a so-called Buffett rule, named after the billionaire Warren Buffett, who supports the president and says it is unfair that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary because most of his income is taxed as capital gains.
Mitt Romney, a top Republican contender to face Obama and one of the richest politicians to vie for the nomination, this week disclosed he paid a tax rate of around 15 percent, because most of his income comes from investments.
Republicans say Obama is playing the politics of envy and what Americans really care about is jobs.
Voters do rate the economy as one of the most important factors in the upcoming election, and while U.S. growth has picked up, it remains fragile and unemployment, at 8.5 percent, is still high by historical standards.
Obama departs on Wednesday for a five-state, three-day tour to promote the framework he will highlight in the address, including visits to Las Vegas and Denver that were hit hard in the housing downturn, and to Detroit, home to the U.S. auto industry that Obama helped rescue through a taxpayer bailout.
(Reporting By Alister Bull; Editing by Vicki Allen)