State of the Union address to focus on a ‘winning’ economic future

Washington (CNN) — President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night will be “all about America winning,” one of his top advisers told CNN.

Valerie Jarrett said the president will focus on “winning for the future and what we have to do to be competitive in this global marketplace.”

Facing a divided Congress, a still-recovering economy, and critics who say he has failed to adequately focus on jobs in the past, the president will present what Jarrett described as a “framework” for moving forward.

Don’t expect many specifics, however. Those will follow in three weeks when Obama releases his budget, Jarrett said. Then “you’ll see a great degree of specificity of how we’ll get the job done.”

In the address, “the most important speech he gives every year,” the president will focus on innovation, Jarrett said. “We’re the country that’s known for creativity and ingenuity and entrepreneurship. It will be about education, making sure that our children are going to be prepared for the jobs of tomorrow, that our innovators are going to be able to compete in this global marketplace. It will be about focusing on infrastructure and investing in our country so that we can get businesses to invest right here at home.”

The president will also speak to the deficit and ballooning debt. “We have to figure out how to make government more efficient, streamline government, make sure we’re creating an environment where companies want to invest in growth. And, very importantly, we have to tackle our fiscal deficit in a responsible way and bring that down. At the end of this evening’s speech, that message will be loud and clear to the American people, ” Jarrett said.

Obama has “spent a great deal of time working on this speech,” Jarrett said, adding that while he may have been tweaking it a bit Tuesday morning, “I would say it is mostly finished.” He wrote “probably the majority of it” himself, Jarrett said, because “this is one where it was very important that he spend the time and get it exactly right so it reflects exactly who he is.”

The annual speech to Congress brings together the three branches of government on Capitol Hill for an assessment of where America stands and where it is heading.

This year’s State of the Union, Obama’s second, comes after his Democratic Party lost its House majority and had its Senate majority decreased in the November elections.

Obama has since signaled a shift to the political center intended to ease the partisan divide in Washington and win back some of the independent support that helped elect him in 2008.

Republicans, however, doubt Obama will change from what they characterize as a big-government ideology.

They call for immediate and significant spending cuts to address growing federal debt and already have challenged Obama’s expected push for increased spending in areas the president considers vital for future growth.

“Any time they want to spend, they call it investment,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told “Fox News Sunday,” adding, “We’ll take a look at his recommendations, we always do. But this is not a time to be looking at pumping up government spending in many areas.”

However, signs of disunity on the right between Tea Party conservatives seeking extreme spending cuts and more moderate Republicans are evident, so much so that there will be two GOP responses to the State of the Union.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, will deliver the official Republican response, while Tea Party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, will provide her own response on the Tea Party Express website.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs insisted Monday that Obama is ready to tackle the federal deficit and spending issues cited by Republicans while maintaining the ability of the United States to grow and compete globally.

“I think you’re going to have a very long and a very serious conversation in this town over the course of the next year to two years about how we get our fiscal house in order,” Gibbs told reporters, later adding: “This is not about whether or not we’re going to do this, it’s about how we’re going to do this.”

White House talking points for the president’s State of the Union address sought to balance the need for deficit reduction and keeping America competitive by investing in education, clean energy, infrastructure and other areas necessary for growth.

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“The most important contest we face today is not between Democrats and Republicans,” the document said. “It’s America’s contest with competitors across the globe for the jobs and industries of our time. It’s about winning the future.”

Obama will emphasize the nation’s improved economic conditions now compared with when he took office, but also acknowledge continued high unemployment and stagnant or shrinking wages that need to be addressed, according to the document.

In addition, the talking points said Obama “will discuss how we can continue to keep America safe and advance our interests around the world.”

“We face big challenges, and fixing them will require a lot of hard work and sacrifice from everyone — Democrats, Republicans and independents,” the document continued. “But if we’re willing to come together and find common ground on these issues, then we can win the future.”

The speech is one of the major Washington events of the year, full of political pageantry that includes the president’s formal introduction by the House sergeant at arms. Military generals, Supreme Court justices and other luminaries attend.

This year’s speech, less than three weeks after a shooting spree in Tucson, Arizona, killed six people and critically injured Rep. Giffords, D-Arizona, will reflect the after effects of the tragedy.

Special guests joining first lady Michelle Obama for the speech will include Daniel Hernandez, the legislative intern who aided Giffords after she was shot; the family of 9-year-old shooting victim Christina Taylor Green, and Dr. Peter Rhee, the trauma chief at University Medical Center where Giffords was treated.

In a symbol of desired political civility in the aftermath of the shootings, more than two dozen legislators have agreed to break the traditional segregated party seating and join members of the other party across the political aisle.

The aisle-crossers will include Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, who previously shouted “you lie” at Obama during a speech to Congress on health care reform. Wilson later apologized for his outburst and was formally rebuked by the House.

Arizona’s congressional delegation will sit together, leaving an empty seat for Giffords, said U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Arizona.

Amid the symbolism, “what the president is most concerned about is tomorrow, and will we be able to work together,” Jarrett said.