Obama Expected To Sound More Populist Notes During Big Speech

01.27.10 | FL News Team

President Obama is expected to sound more populist notes when he delivers the annual State of the Union speech. The address to a joint session of Congress is set for 9 p.m. Eastern tonight. After big election losses in Massachusetts, Virginia and New Jersey -- and with an eye on upcoming midterm congressional elections -- the White House is rebooting its political strategy. A big part of the strategy takes aim at excesses on Wall Street while highlighting the needs of the struggling middle class. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the administration will put a heavy emphasis on the "economy and jobs" in 2010.

 In the past couple of weeks, President Obama has proposed tough limits on risky trading practices and a fee on large banks to recover taxpayer bailout money. Obama said taxpayers should "never again be held hostage" by financial institutions perceived as "too big to fail." He insisted Wall Street "cannot return to business as usual." Wall Street executives oppose regulatory reforms, arguing they could further impede the sluggish economic recovery. Obama noted the opposition and challenged large financial institutions to "work with us, not against us" on "common sense reforms." The President has often spoken of a huge disconnect between "Wall Street and Main Street."

 Democrats, who control the White House and large majorities in Congress, have been rocked by recent gubernatorial election losses in New Jersey and Virginia and last week's U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts. Republican Scott Brown won a huge upset victory and will fill out the term of the late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy. Brown's election throws off the balance of power in the Senate. Democrats lose their 60-vote super-majority, necessary to break Republican filibusters and move issues forward. That puts the fate of healthcare reform at risk. During his campaign, Brown vowed to oppose final votes on health insurance reform legislation.

 President Obama is expected to address growing uncertainty about healthcare reform during the State of the Union address. Last week, presidential spokesman Gibbs said lawmakers should not be in a hurry. He said it's appropriate to "give it some time (and) figure out the best way forward." Gibbs rejected assertions that healthcare reform is dead. The Senate and House passed different health insurance reform bills late last year but there are big differences in the two bills that have to be resolved before a final bill is crafted.

 Gibbs said the President understands growing anxiety and impatience. He noted voter discontent was building long before President Obama took office. In a briefing last week, Gibbs said, quote, "Change is hard and change takes time."

 Meantime, Republican leaders have chosen new Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell to deliver the formal GOP response to the President's State of the Union address. Governor McDonnell, a former state attorney general of Virginia, is considered one of the rising stars in the Republican Party.