Obama to focus on job creation, gun control and climate change

President Barack Obama look-ed across a vast partisan divide as he reported to Congress and the nation in his annual State of the Union speech last night.

The speech was set to be closely monitored as the blueprint for his goals for the year. They include job creation and a push for the ambitious progressive plans he outlined in his second inaugural address three weeks ago.

Mr Obama was due to announce that 34,000 US troops will be home from Afghanistan one year from today. That is about half the US troops currently in Afghanistan. The decision marks the next phase in Mr Obama’s plans to end the US-led war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

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On domestic issues, Mr Obama hopes he can encourage Congress to join him in reforming laws on gun ownership and immigration and boosting taxes to raise government spending power. The president’s priorities also include easing back on spending cuts and addressing climate change.

Aware of the partisan gridlock gripping Washington, Mr Obama is banking on his popularity and the political capital from his convincing re-election in November as he calls on Americans to join him in his vision for what he calls a fairer country with greater opportunity for all.

With Republicans in control of the House of Representatives and exerting influence in the Democratic-controlled Senate, Mr Obama plans immediately afterward to make a two-day, three-state foray to take his message directly to the American people.

Congress fought the president to a near standstill on virtually every White House initiative during his first term – although he succeeded in overhauling the health care system. In his second term Mr Obama has decided that he may stand a better chance of moving his agenda through Congress by drawing support from outside the capital rather than from within.

Massive federal spending cuts that will hit the US economy on March 1 if a compromise is not hammered out with Congress were expected to colour the speech. Some predict the cuts could push the United States back into recession. The cuts will slice deeply into spending for the Pentagon and a range of social programmes. Some Republicans are threatening to let it go forward if Mr Obama does not agree to big cuts in the so-called social safety net programmes such as Medicare and Medicaid, which provide health care and other assistance to the elderly and poor.

Mr Obama was expected to refocus on creating jobs in a country where the unemployment rate remains at nearly eight per cent. He will also push for new laws to curb gun violence and will issue rules to control carbon emissions from power plants.