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Obama to Push Jobs, Education Spending in State of the Union Address

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Reuters

WASHINGTON -- Facing a divided Congress and a dissatisfied nation, President Barack Obama will aim at getting the U.S. economy and his own presidency back on track in his first State of the Union policy speech.

A senior administration official told Fox News the president plans to use the address to renew his focus on jobs, calling for swift action on lagging bills providing tax cuts for job creation, new equipment purchases and the elimination of capital gains for small businesses.

Many of the proposals date back to his campaign but have drawn little notice in a Congress preoccupied with other matters, such as overhauling health care.

Obama will also propose a major increase in federal spending on education by as much as $4 billion in an effort to revamp the No Child Left Behind law enacted under George W. Bush.

"The president will highlight his commitment to education reform in the State of the Union tomorrow night including his plan to improve outcomes for students at every point along the educational pipeline," an official told Fox News.

The 9 p.m. EST address has enormous stakes for Obama. He rode a tide of voter frustration into office and now is getting smacked by it himself.

Obama will offer fresh details about how he wants to help businesses hire again and how he hopes to salvage an overhaul of the health care system. Yet for all of the new wrinkles he offers, the speech will be measured largely by how well he reconnects with the public.

"In this political environment, what I haven't always been successful at doing is breaking through the noise and speaking directly to the American people," Obama conceded to an interviewer last week. This is his chance -- nationally televised speeches like this one can draw 30 million to 50 million viewers, sometimes more.

The agenda will sound familiar. Obama says he will not retreat from the big issues he campaigned on and tried to get done in his first year, when political momentum was strong. He will push for health care reform, regulation of Wall Street, energy and immigration reform, and a global fight against terrorists.

Obama also will prod Congress to enact new jobs legislation, seek a freeze on some domestic spending for three years and try to blunt the impact of a Supreme Court decision that gives corporations much more freedom to influence elections through political advertising.

Meanwhile, his White House is still feeling the jolt of last week's special Senate election in Massachusetts. When little-known Republican Scott Brown won the seat held for nearly a half-century by the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, that result was widely viewed as a symbol of frustration with the economy and the powers that be.

So Obama will try to more sharply cast his messages to address people's daily concerns. That starts with creating more jobs at a time of 10 percent unemployment but extends to the other topics he will address, including the government's ongoing habit of spending more money than it has.

Then again, Obama already has been trying to couch his initiatives in real-life terms.

In his first address to Congress 11 months ago, a speech too early in his tenure to be considered a State of the Union address, Obama talked of people living with the economic anxiety of sleepless nights, bills they could not pay and jobs they lost.

"It's an agenda that begins with jobs," Obama said that night in February. It still is, but in a much tougher political environment for him and his party.

Obama remains a well-liked figure, polls show, but his overall approval rating and grades for handling issues like the economy have dropped significantly.

A new Gallup Poll finds that Obama is the most politically polarizing president in recent history, with 88 percent of Democrats approving of his job performance while just 23 percent of Republicans do. He has the twin political challenges of giving Democratic lawmakers an agenda they can rally around in this midterm election year, yet showing emboldened Republicans and a skeptical public that he is serious about reversing Washington's bitter partisanship.

Obama, knowing the public angst about government bailouts and big-bank bonuses, also will position himself as a voice for working families. He has adopted the word "fight" to describe his stand against special interests. As spokesman Robert Gibbs previewed Tuesday, "I don't doubt that at times he'll be feisty."

Foreign affairs and terrorist threats will get plenty of attention, too. Obama will give his assessment of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The last two months have seen a shooting massacre at the Fort Hood Army post in Texas and an attempted terrorist attack on an airliner heading for Detroit.

The administration is coping with international nuclear standoffs in North Korea and Iran and a Mideast peace process that remains as vexing as ever. Obama is also expected to touch on post-earthquake life in Haiti, which has faded slightly from public attention but remains an epic humanitarian crisis.

The night before the speech, two sections in particular were still being worked on by White House officials -- health care and government reform. As is typical of Obama on big speeches, he was working up to the last minute to craft it while his team labored to shorten it.

Obama's message will be fleshed out in greater detail afterward as he travels to Florida on Thursday and New Hampshire on Tuesday for jobs-focused appearances, and in between, when he submits his 2011 budget to Congress on Monday.

On health care, Obama will map a way forward for legislation that is suddenly mired; Brown's win in Massachusetts eliminated the 60-vote supermajority that Democrats in the Senate needed to overcome Republican procedural delays and get a final bill passed. Obama planned to acknowledge that the long, messy health care debate has soured many on the idea, and he will try to make a far-reaching plan attractive to voters.

The president also will renew his call for immigration reform, a volatile issue once considered a first-year priority but lately sent to the back burner.

The Republican response to Obama's speech will be delivered Wednesday night by Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, two months after he put his state in Republican hands in one of the party's major recent election victories.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.