President Obama heads out on the road Wednesday to key battleground states armed with proposals from his State of the Union address that have little chance of inspiring a burst of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill but which are certain to give Obama an election-year message.
In his lengthy annual address Tuesday night, the president suggested Americans follow the lead of U.S. military forces and "focus on the mission at hand" -- keeping alive the American Dream. But Republicans say that dream has become harder to achieve in an era of regulation and overt class warfare, and they urged the president to get out of the way and let the country heal itself.
Heavy on egalitarian themes that promote a strong government role in determining outcomes, Obama couched his message in the language of opportunity. He said the "defining issue of our time" is finding the means to uphold the promise that if people work hard, they will succeed.
"No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same set of rules," he said.
Acknowledging his role as the "loyal opposition," Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who delivered the GOP response, said the president "must know in his heart" that to project the state of the union as "anything but grave" is simply "not true," and he blamed the president's rigid adherence to ideology for suffocating innovation.
"The extremism that stifles the development of homegrown energy, or cancels a perfectly safe pipeline that would employ tens of thousands, or jacks up consumer utility bills for no improvement in either human health or world temperature, is a pro-poverty policy," Daniels said.
"We do not accept that ours will ever be a nation of haves and have nots; we must always be a nation of haves and soon to haves," Daniels said.
In a speech heavy in focus on manufacturing, job training and tax reform, Obama said Tuesday that the most immediate priority for a divided Congress is to stop a tax hike on 160 million working Americans and prolong a payroll tax cut set to expire next month.
At the same time, Obama proposed raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. He said anyone who makes more than $1 million a year should not pay less than 30 percent in federal taxes and should get no special subsidies or deductions.
"Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Or do we want to keep our investments in everything else? ... Because if we're serious about paying down our debt, we can't do both," he said.
Saying that the country can get its mojo back, the president said the "house of cards" collapsed in 2008 as a result of mortgages being sold to people "who couldn't afford or understand them," banks that bet using other people's money and profited either way and regulators who looked the other way or didn't have the authority to stop the bad behavior.
Since then, he said, American manufacturers are hiring again and new rules have been put in place to hold Wall Street accountable.
"The state of our union is getting stronger, and we've come too far to turn back now" Obama said.
While the president wants to look at the "sunny side," Daniels said the president was elected to fix problems he did not cause, but "he cannot claim that the last three years have made things anything but worse."
"When President Obama claims that the state of our union is anything but grave, he must know in his heart that this is not true," Daniels said.
Daniels also focused heavily on the entitlement system that is paying out far beyond what it can afford.
"It's absolutely so that everyone should contribute to our national recovery, including of course the most affluent among us. There are smart ways and dumb ways to do this: the dumb way is to raise rates in a broken, grossly complex tax system, choking off growth without bringing in the revenues we need to meet our debts. The better course is to stop sending the wealthy benefits they do not need, and stop providing them so many tax preferences that distort our economy and do little or nothing to foster growth," he said.
The president said a new American economy must be "built to last" through government and financial systems that play by the rules and give everyone a fair shot. Borrowing the slogan from General Motors, the president called for restoring the economy and ending favoritism.
"What's at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them," he said.
Offering an array of suggestions for getting businesses to start hiring in the U.S. again, the president suggested incentivizing in-sourcing by doubling tax deductions for high-tech manufacturers that make products in the U.S., and extra help with financing for relocating in hard-hit communities.
"Ask yourselves what you can do to bring back jobs to your country and your country will do everything it can to help you succeed," he said.
The president added that companies that outsource jobs should not get a tax break while every "multinational company should have to pay a basic minimum tax."
"And every penny should go towards lowering taxes for companies that choose to stay here and hire here," he said.
The president challenged lawmakers to pass several proposals that are unlikely to get any pick-up this election year. Obama called for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration laws, make college education cheaper and "double down" on clean energy.
Recognizing that differences in Congress are too deep to pass climate change legislation, Obama said he is directing the development of clean energy on public land and announced that the Navy will purchase enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes each year..
He called on Congress to fund "great projects" using half the money "we're no longer spending at war" and use the other half to pay down the debt.
Though he requested Congress grant him authority to take several action, the president, who rehearsed his presentation with a weekend video to supporters that was prepared by his re-election team, acknowledged that the cynicism for action is great.
He said while he's willing to cooperate with Congress, he will not let Republicans hold up his plans.
"I intend to fight obstruction with action," he said. "With or without this Congress, I will keep taking actions that help the economy grow. But I can do a whole lot more with your help."
Obama will follow up Tuesday night's address with a three-day tour of five states key to his re-election bid. On Wednesday he'll visit Iowa and Arizona to promote ideas to boost American manufacturing; on Thursday in Nevada and Colorado he'll discuss energy, and in Michigan on Friday he'll talk about college affordability, education and training.
In a flag-waving defense of American power and influence abroad, Obama said the U.S. will safeguard its own security "against those who threaten our citizens, our friends and our interests." On Iran, he said that while all options are on the table to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon -- an implied threat to use military force -- "a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible."
Adding that the flag that the Navy SEALs team took with it on the mission to get bin Laden is his proudest possession, the president said inevitably it falls on everyone to help lift the country.
"This nation is great because we get each other's backs," he said.