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Sweet: Obama’s pitch for bipartisanship faces formidable obstacles

WASHINGTON DC - FEBRUARY 12: Former Republican Vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (C) applauds as U.S. President Barack

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 12: Former Republican Vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (C) applauds as U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol February 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. Facing a divided Congress, Obama focused his speech on new initiatives designed to stimulate the U.S. economy and said, "It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth". (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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President Barack Obama in the State of the Union speech Tuesday night called for:

◆ Boosting the federal minimum wage in stages to $9 by the end of 2015. Obama is expected to make a significant push for the increase, expected to face tough opposition.

◆ Expanding pre-school opportunities for every low-and-moderate income child in the nation, much more ambitious than current Head Start programs serving only the very poor.

◆ More clean energy research through the establishment of an “Energy Security Trust” to wean the nation from oil and gas.

◆ Rebuilding crumbling infrastructures — bridges and roads — through a “Fix-It First” program, with $40 billion for the upgrades needed the most. Of interest to Chicago and the state of Illinois, this could pump more money to the area for more funding for highways, rail and public transit and would be financed in large part through money saved by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

◆ The launching of 15 “Manufacturing Innovation Institutes” nationwide with a $1 billion investment to build partnerships between communities, governments, business, colleges and universities to help U.S. manufacturers.

◆ The creation of 20 experimental “Promise Zones” across the country to cut every piece of red tape to leverage private investment, create jobs, expand education opportunities, increase low-cost housing and cut crime. Obama is expected to highlight this during his Chicago visit.

◆ Addressing voter problems in November, creation of a bipartisan election commission to be co-chaired by Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg, lawyers who advised the Obama and Romney campaigns.

◆ Reducing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 34,000 by this time next year, a decrease from the 66,000 now posted there.

Lynn Sweet

Updated: March 14, 2013 6:45AM

WASHINGTON — I watched President Barack Obama’s State of the Union with a very important focus group — keeping an eye on the Republicans in the House chamber from my perch in the gallery — observing they mostly sat on their hands during his speech.

This time, at least, everything was polite — no one cried out liar or anything unsort.

But as much as Obama made a pitch for bipartisanship, he faces formidable obstacles in pushing the economic agenda he laid out in his speech, most of the items aimed at boosting the middle class.

Now there are some items that everyone should agree on, such as making it easier and cheaper to refinance a home mortgage. That’s not where the main battles will be.

Obama’s team sees the Republicans in Congress as mainly obstructionists, chained to the far right base of the party, fearful of primary challenges. That’s why they are plotting strategies to create public pressure on Republicans — an initial chore assigned to the new nonprofit created out of the Obama campaign, Organizing for America.

Unlike his Jan. 21 inaugural address, Obama’s speech was not soaring — and lacked the pitch to the liberal, or progressive wing that marked that address, a better candidate for the history books.

His second term blueprint seemed fairly modest to me — no massive new initiatives — but the GOP response in the room told me there were partisan battles ahead — with two possible big ticket exceptions, on measures to curb gun violence and comprehensive immigration reform.

I watched the parents of slain Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton — sitting next to first lady Michelle — as Obama pleaded to at least give a vote to his proposals to curb gun violence. It was heartbreaking to imagine what this week has been like for them — the funeral for their daughter was last Saturday.

A few months ago, I was very pessimistic of any chance of any gun measure passing — even in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. Yet as Obama spoke, you could see that there was support for something from both sides of the aisle. Key here will be if House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will allow votes on gun measures that do not have the support of the majority of House Republicans.

That’s why Obama was calling for a vote — why Democrats were chanting “vote,”vote.” They know the public won’t buy into — if they know about it — keeping gun bills hostage without even a chance for a vote.

The same for immigration reform. Key senators sat together to show their unity on this — Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and others in a row — all stood as Obama called for “real” reform.

“Let’s get this done,” Obama said.

Maybe he will.

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