President Obama's second inaugural address was widely perceived as a throwing down of the gauntlet in how it framed his progressive faith in government and challenged his Republican political opponents in any number of ways. Given that, expect to see more glove-throwing Tuesday as the president delivers the first State of the Union speech of his second term. With no more presidential elections to face, Obama seems to be taking advantage of that newfound freedom to speak more forcefully on his second-term agenda items, like immigration overhaul, gun control and climate change, than he generally did during his first term. So expect to see that increased forcefulness on display during his speech to a joint session of Congress. Obama himself has acknowledged that he has decided to be unapologetic about his priorities. In remarks he made to House Democrats last week at their retreat, he said: "Even as I think it's important to be humbled by the privilege of this office and the privilege of serving in the United States Congress, even as it's important not to read too much into any particular political victory — because this country is big, it is diverse, it is contentious, and we don't have a monopoly on wisdom, and we need to remember that — despite all those things, I think it's also important for us to feel confident and bold about the values we care about and what we stand for. "And I tried to do that in my inauguration speech, and I'm hoping that we all do that over the next four years." "His sense of self-confidence is palpable since he was re-elected," said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, in an interview. "And the American people like that," said Waldman, who was a speechwriter in former President Bill Clinton's White House. "They want a happy warrior. They want to see their president in the fight with a smile." So, on what issues will Obama likely assert his "confident and bold" vision for the nation? Here are four.
1) The Economy
The economy remains the most important issue to voters, judging by what they tell pollsters. With the economy facing an immediate threat from the very real possibility of sharp cuts in federal spending starting March 1 from what's known in Washington as sequestration, Obama will no doubt again encourage lawmakers to reach an agreement before any more damage is done. Just the threat of the sequester is thought to have contributed to the economy shrinking in the fourth quarter of 2012. Obama has advocated that the sequester be replaced by a package of spending cuts and tax reforms that would raise more revenue in part by closing tax loopholes, especially those benefiting taxpayers at the top of the income ladder. Republicans have said any proposals that include new revenue are dead on arrival. Expect Obama to insist, as he has in the past, that it's essential that any approach to fiscal responsibility be "balanced," with spending cuts and new revenue both contributing to cutting deficits. And expect him to indicate that he will give no ground on this. Spending cuts alone, he has said, will lead to reductions in the kinds of federal spending on education and research that would eventually limit economic growth. Obama is sure to frame the issue not just in fairness terms but also as essential to faster economic growth. As he told House Democrats last week: "Over the next four years, as I work with this caucus and every caucus, the question I will ask myself on every item, every issue is, 'Is this helping to make sure that everybody has got a fair shot and everybody is doing their fair share, and everybody is playing by the same rules?' Because I believe that is a growth agenda — not just an equity agenda, not just a fairness agenda — that is a growth agenda. That is when we have grown fastest. "And that means that what you'll hear from me next week, I'm going to be talking about making sure that we're focused on job creation...
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