Obama speech to highlight liberal agenda, but obstacles loom

Fri Feb 8, 2013 5:32pm EST
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By Matt Spetalnick and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - If Inauguration Day marked the official rollout of a tougher, bolder President Barack Obama, look for him to take it a step further on Tuesday night: his State of the Union address is expected to lay out an unabashedly liberal Democratic agenda to a U.S. Congress half controlled by conservative Republicans.

With his poll numbers up, his supporters' expectations high and Republicans still in disarray after their lackluster showing in the November election, Obama would seem to have good reason to press ahead.

But the political and fiscal realities of a divided Washington will make it difficult for him to translate the ambitious themes he articulates from the podium - a U.S. immigration overhaul, gun control, tax reform and possibly even action on climate change - into legislative form.

On top of that, Obama knows the clock is ticking.

The consensus among Washington insiders is that the Democratic president has a limited window, possibly as little as a year and a half, to push through his congressional priorities before being reduced to lame-duck status.

Obama also faces the risk of overreach, a common pitfall of second-term presidents, and his new, hard-line approach in the latest fiscal battles could alienate Republicans to the point of shutting down the cooperation he needs to gain traction for his other big-ticket plans.

Still, when Obama stands before a joint session of Congress with tens of millions watching on television, it will be his best chance to build momentum for a far-reaching agenda he laid out in his January 21 inauguration address, surprising even many traditional liberals.

Obama's aides hope that by using prime-time television on Tuesday and following that up with campaign-style trips around the country, the president can satisfy his liberal base for now and rally the American public to put pressure on Republicans.   Continued...

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks from the briefing room of the White House in Washington February 5, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque