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Politics & Government

State Of The Union Preview

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Later this evening President Obama will travel one mile down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol to deliver the annual State of the Union address. Much of what he'll say is no secret. It has been heavily promoted on social media, in speeches around the country and in this video from the president himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This State of the Union gives me an opportunity to present to the American people; now that we have fought our way through the crisis, how do we make sure that everybody in this country - how do we make sure that they're sharing in this growing economy?

SIEGEL: And Republicans also are making no secret of what they think. Here's Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Looking at the rollout of what he's likely to talk about tonight - speaking of warmed over proposals, it all looks like the same old tax and spend that the president's been advocating for the last six years.

SIEGEL: Well, for more on the policy and the politics of this evening, we're joined by NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, what does the president hope to accomplish tonight?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, I think more than laying out a series of bills that he expects Congress to pass, he hopes to accomplish a framing of the debate for the next two years and for 2016. He has an opposition Congress now controlled totally by Republicans as opposed to the divided and paralyzed Congress we had before. That means Congress will be passing things - not necessarily his things, but he'll be waiting at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue with a pen to sign or veto them. So they're going to be big fights - big veto fights. There were going to be negotiations, and the president wants to draw the battle lines tonight.

And I think with his tax package in particular, he's signaling it's time to move beyond the debate about the size of government, about the deficit. And he's going to say tonight - as you heard him before in that clip - now that the recession is over, the economy's growing. Let's use the tax code to address a big problem which is that middle-class wages are stagnating. Inequality is growing even when the economy is growing.

SIEGEL: So what are some of the highlights of the initiatives that the president will discuss tonight in his speech?

LIASSON: Well, I think the tax package is the centerpiece. His plan would close loopholes for the wealthy, raise capital gains taxes, expose more inherited wealth to tax. The White House says this would be closing the, quote, "trust fund loophole," putting fees on the biggest banks and then using that money to make two years of community college tuition virtually free, pay for expanded tax credits for working families, for education, for child care and investing in infrastructure.

SIEGEL: And the prospects that he can get any of that passed?

LIASSON: Well, I think overall they're slim to none. But if Republicans see it in their interest, there could be some kind of tax reform that includes something of what's in the president's package. In the past, Republicans like the former House Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp have proposed fees on big banks. Conservatives like Marco Rubio have proposed expanding the earned income tax credit.

I think trade is another issue the president will talk about tonight that might get passed. It has big Republican support. Although on trade, something to listen for is whether the president pushes his own party on that issue since a majority of Democrats are opposed to the president's trade agenda

SIEGEL: Now, we heard Mitch McConnell just a moment ago - a clip of him. But there's always an official GOP response or minority response after the speech - the party that doesn't hold the White House. Tell us about that.

LIASSON: It'll be Joni Ernst, the freshman senator from Iowa. The Republican party has a tradition of putting bright, young stars forward, particularly ones that put a fresh face on the GOP. In this Republican response Ernst is a conservative, but she's also a mom, a veteran, a farmer and she's from the heartland.

SIEGEL: OK. That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.