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Obama: Bolstering middle class must be policy 'North Star'


Updated 6 p.m. ET -- President Barack Obama was set to announce broad goal of reinvigorating America's middle class during his second term at Tuesday's State of the Union address, calling it the "North Star" that guides policy making in Washington in the immediate future.

 "A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs - that must be the North Star that guides our efforts," Obama would tell lawmakers in tonight's speech to a joint session of Congress, according to excerpts released by the White House. "Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation:  How do we attract more jobs to our shores?  How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs?  And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?"

 The top issues for Americans – jobs and the economy – were expected to be the central focus of Obama’s speech, the fourth formal State of the Union address he’s delivered since being elected in 2008. If the country’s struggles to emerge from a severe recession defined Obama’s first term, then the task of returning to the U.S. to a robust pace of growth was arguably the most urgent facing Obama as he enters his second term.

 Obama’s remarks are expected to focus on how to best help the middle class, particularly through investments in programs. The president was set to tell lawmakers these new plans were "fully consistent" with their past budget agreements and that, more importantly, they would not worsen a ballooned federal deficit.

 "Let me repeat - nothing I'm proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime," Obama would say. "It's not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth."

The Cycle hosts and NBC's Luke Russert spin on the state of the union, what they expect to hear from the president, and their predictions on Rubio's rebuttal.

 That emphasis comes against a spring budget battle between Obama and Republicans on Capitol Hill amid the looming threat of “sequester,” the automatic and swift spending cuts that the administration warns would cripple the economy and harm the national defense. The Jan. 1 fiscal cliff deal put off those cuts for two months, but Democrats and Republicans appear nowhere near a deal to avert the onset of those spending cuts in a few weeks.

 “It's pretty clear to me that the sequester's going to go into effect,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday on Capitol Hill. “I have seen no evidence that the House plans to act on this matter before the end of the month.”

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With the specter of sequestration hanging over tonight’s speech, Obama’s arguments on taxes, spending and entitlement reform will shape the contours of the fiscal fights in the weeks ahead. Perhaps the biggest open question heading into Tuesday’s speech was whether the president would be as forceful in making his case as he was during his second inaugural address. That speech – a liberal call to arms on the size of government, gay rights, immigration and beyond – was said by the administration to be intended to be paired with this State of the Union address.

Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

President Barack Obama speaks during an Armed Forces Farewell Tribute in honor of outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at Joint Base Myer-Henderson in Arlington, Va., Feb. 8, 2013.

Indeed, elements of that inaugural address are sure to feature prominently in tonight’s speech before a joint session of Congress. Obama has made a comprehensive immigration reform law that provides a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants a centerpiece of his second term agenda. The administration has also pushed for tighter regulations on firearms as part of a broader effort to curb gun violence. The fate of those measures is less certain.

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Foreign policy will receive its due time, too, in Obama’s speech. The president is expected to announce that about half of the troops currently remaining in Afghanistan would return to the U.S. within the next year. Obama will almost certainly address Tuesday’s nuclear weapon test by North Korea during tonight’s speech, as well.