Channel NewsAsia

Obama to warn he will not "stand still," ready to bypass Congress

President Barack Obama was to warn Tuesday that he will bypass Congress if it thwarts his battle against inequality, in a State of the Union address meant to lift US spirits and his own political fortunes.

 WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama was to warn Tuesday that he will bypass Congress if it thwarts his battle against inequality, in a State of the Union address meant to lift US spirits and his own political fortunes.

Obama was to step up in the House of Representatives in US television's primetime seeking new momentum for a presidency that stumbled through a disastrous first year of his second term.

"What I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class," Obama was to say, according to advance excerpts of his speech released by the White House.

"Some require congressional action, and I'm eager to work with all of you," Obama planned to tell mass ranks of lawmakers, dignitaries and honored guests in the annual televised speech.

"But America does not stand still - and neither will I.

"So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do."

Obama planned to argue that the fundamental American idea that anyone has a chance to better their lot had taken some "serious blows."

"Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled."

"And too many still aren't working at all," Obama was to say, according to the excerpts.

White House aides say Obama will be "ambitious" in the speech.

But beyond the spin -- and despite signs of faster growth in a still wounded economy -- the president has little to cheer going into his sixth year in office.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll pegged Obama's approval rating at 43 per cent, the worst level for any president apart from George W Bush, heading into his sixth year State of the Union address since World War II.

Sixty-eight per cent said the country was either stagnant or worse off since Obama moved into the White House in 2009.

Obama's reputation was scarred last year by a botched roll out of his signature health care law, budget clashes with Republicans and perceived missteps abroad.

But he will seize a chance to chart the early going for mid-term elections in November, in which his Democrats are in danger of losing the Senate.

Since Republicans are unlikely to advance Obama's agenda in Congress, Obama will try to directly mobilize the American people behind his priorities in the prime time address.

He will also wield his own powers to the limit, though what he can achieve through executive order is more limited than what is possible through congressional action.

Obama will for instance call on Congress on Tuesday to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 -- a proposal that he has raised before and never seen enacted.

And with a sweep of his pen, the president will use his executive authority to hike the minimum wage to that level for low level workers employed on new federal contracts.

Obama is also expected to call on Congress to extend expired benefits for the long-term unemployed and to improve access to pre-school and college education as a way to pave the way to the middle class for future generations.

In their response to Obama's address, Republicans will also address contracting middle class opportunity, an increasingly important theme in American politics.

Republican congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers however differed in how to address the middle class crunch in excerpts of her speech.

She promised viewers an agenda that "empowers you, not the government.

"It's one that champions free markets - and trusts people to make their own decisions, not a government that decides for you.

"It helps working families rise above the limits of poverty and protects our most vulnerable."

While concentrating on domestic issues, Obama will likely defend an interim nuclear deal with Iran that is facing significant opposition in Congress.

Obama is also likely to stress he has lived up to a promise to end US combat in Iraq and will do so in Afghanistan by the end of this year.

He may also highlight Secretary of State John Kerry's exhaustive attempt to forge peace between Israelis and Palestinians and plans for trading blocs with Asia and Europe.

But facing challenges from Syria to the South China Sea -- and few easy solutions -- there is little political advantage in surveying US prospects abroad.

He is also likely to tread carefully on the one issue where he could achieve a large, domestic legacy enhancing achievement in 2014 -- immigration reform.

There are signs that House Republicans, fearful of continuing to anger the key Hispanic demographic are moving towards some kind of reform this year.

The White House is giving House Speaker John Boehner room to maneuver, knowing that an ill-timed intervention from Obama, who is reviled by conservative Republicans, could backfire.

Tweet Photos, Videos and Update on this Story to  #cna