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State Of The Union Is Obama's Big Chance To Frame The Debate


President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address this Tuesday, his first before a Republican-led Congress. And it's a fair bet many in the chamber will not be happy. The president is expected to talk about plans to impose higher taxes on the wealthy. To preview what's ahead, joining us is national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So last night the White House released a list of tax changes the president intends to push through Congress. Can you lay them out for us?

LIASSON: Yes, the president has a package of new tax cuts and credits for the middle class, including tripling the child care tax credit, adding a new $500 second earner tax credit. And he's going to pay for them by raising taxes on the wealthy by closing big tax loopholes - one of them the White House calls the trust-fund loophole. He's also going to raise fees on the biggest banks. Now that the Congress is controlled completely by Republicans, as opposed to the divided Congress we had in the last couple of years, they are going to start passing things. And the president is going to veto them. There are going to be some big fights. There are going to be negotiations. And Tuesday night is the first big chance the president gets to frame those debates the way he wants to, and that tax proposal is the first salvo in that debate.

MARTIN: All right. Besides the tax proposals, what are you going to be looking for, Mara?

LIASSON: The most important thing I'm going to be listening for is his tone - first of all, his tone on the economy. As Tam just explained, the economy is doing better now, and it might be easier for the president to give an optimistic message about the economy. The other thing I'm listening for is, what is his attitude toward the Republicans? Does he upbraid them the way he did the Supreme Court in a State of the Union address after the Citizens United ruling, or does he reach out to his old golf buddy John Boehner to make some deals? I will be listening to how he approaches his own Democrats. Does he challenge them on trade? And also, I'm interested in how the president describes the things that he's planning to do on his own - all of those executive actions that he's been rolling out bit by bit.

MARTIN: Republican leaders have vowed to dismantle the health care law, undo immigration reforms that the president has pushed through unilaterally. They oppose his negotiations Iran. Are the next two years likely to be one, big fight?

LIASSON: There will be a lot of big fights in the next two years. They'll be big, clarifying fights, and they're going to set the table for the 2016 presidential elections. However, in terms of the fights over the things that the president has pushed through unilaterally, the Republicans will try. And every one of these things is by definition potentially temporary since a new president could overturn them. However, all of these things the president has done - the health care law, the immigration reforms, the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba - they establish facts on the ground that are going to be very, very hard to reverse. And I think this is the way the president is hoping to be a not-so-lame-lame duck. It turns out that every second-term president - any president who has been constitutionally barred from running again - has not had control of Congress. They've all - all five of them - have had an opposition Congress. The ones that have been successful are the ones that moved aggressively to act on their own either in foreign-policy or using executive actions, and that certainly is what the president hopes he can do, too.

MARTIN: Mara Liasson, NPR's national political correspondent. Thank so much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.