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State of the Union: "Act two" of Obama's 2nd term

When the curtain rises on President Obama's State of the Union speech tonight, the White House wants it viewed as "Act Two" - a follow-up to the national goals and policy objectives of which he spoke 22 days earlier on the West Front of the Capitol.

"The president has always viewed the two speeches, the inaugural address and the State of The Union, as two acts in the same play," said press secretary Jay Carney yesterday.

Though Mr. Obama has given more speeches this year on his proposals to stem gun violence and overhaul immigration policy, the "core emphasis" of his speech tonight is the economy.

"You'll hear from the president a very clear call for the need to take action to help our economy grow and help it create jobs," said Carney.

That includes the showdown with Congress over the mandatory spending cuts due to take effect starting March 1.


The president will urge Congress "not to shoot the economy in the foot," said Carney, by agreeing to his plan to avert the across-the-board spending cuts which the White House portrays as mindless and severe.

The president will again make it clear he wants a "balanced" plan that calls for additional tax revenue from America's top earners.

"My message to Congress is this: let's keep working together to solve this problem," the president said Saturday in his weekly address.

But Republican leaders say Mr. Obama already got his tax hikes as part of the "fiscal cliff" package, and now needs to focus exclusively on reductions in spending.

It'll be Mr. Obama's seventh appearance before a Joint Session of Congress and he'll be taking the rostrum aware that the national unemployment rate still hovers just under 8 percent and economic growth fell into negative territory at the end of 2012.

"The economy is not in a worse place than it was before," said Carney, pointing to the progress made since Mr. Obama's first State of the Union Address. "We were in economic freefall."

He said the president will make the case that "we are at a moment when the economy is poised to continue to build on the job creation that we've achieved -- over 6.1 million jobs created by our businesses over the past 35 or 36 months."

Carney added the president will propose further steps to grow the economy in a way that makes the middle class more secure and helps those trying to climb the ladder into the middle class.

"That is absolutely going to be his focus in the second term as it was in the first term," said Carney.

The president will make clear he's not giving up on oft-stated plans to put more people to work repairing America's infrastructure. He'll also put forward a proposal calling for expanded opportunities for higher education.

But Mr. Obama will also come on strong tonight for his immigration and gun control proposals. He wants an overhaul that includes a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.

And with victims of gun violence in the gallery, he'll make an impassioned pitch for a gun control law that would reinstate the ban on sales of assault weapons, end the manufacture of ammo clips that hold more than 10 rounds, and institute more thorough background checks on all gun buyers.

Though congressional approval of his agenda priorities is beyond reach, Mr. Obama wants to be seen standing firm on their behalf.

The official Republican response to the president will be delivered tonight by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., widely seen as a presidential candidate in 2016.

An even more critical response will come from Sen. Rand Paul., R-Ky., speaking for the the tea party wing of the GOP, whose supporters in Congress have successfully blocked many of Mr. Obama's objectives.

As is tradition, Mr. Obama will be taking his State of the Union goals on the road with a speech Wednesday in Asheville, N.C., in Atlanta on Thursday and Chicago on Friday.