State of the Union: 4 things to look for

@CNNMoney January 24, 2012: 6:52 PM ET
If past speeches are any indication, the economy will be mentioned early and often in Obama's State of the Union address.

The State of the Union address is a lot of pomp and circumstance.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- When President Obama delivers his third, and possibly final, State of the Union address Tuesday, will the economy be issue no. 1?

Probably. If past speeches are any indication, the economy will be mentioned early and often.

Economic terms, including "tax," "spend" and "jobs" are among the most frequently used words in recent State of the Union speeches.

In 2009, Obama used the word "economy" a total of 23 times in his unofficial address. In 2010, that number dropped to 15, before falling to 7 mentions last year.

That may reflect the general pace of economic recovery.

In 2009, the economy was hemorrhaging more than 700,000 jobs a month. By early 2010, the economy was starting to add jobs -- a trend that would continue into 2011.

Of course, there is one big difference this time around: It's an election year, and that means nitty-gritty policy proposals might fall by the wayside in favor of lofty political rhetoric.

In anticipation of that eventuality, Republicans are already firing back.

House Speaker John Boehner said Sunday he has been reading a lot about what the president is expected to say Tuesday, and "it sounds to me like ... more spending, higher taxes, more regulations."

"If that's what the president is going to talk about Tuesday night," Boehner said, "I think it's pathetic."

Here's what we'll be listening for:

Income inequality

Late last year, Obama made a trip to Kansas, and presented Americans with a choice: a "fair shot" with him, or a return to "you're on your own economics."

The much ballyhooed speech was delivered in Osawatomie, the same town where Teddy Roosevelt made his case for "New Nationalism" -- a plan for broad social and economic reform -- more than 100 years ago.

In the speech, Obama firmly embraced the rhetoric of income inequality, and laid out a plan to rebuild the middle class.

One big idea: Fairness.

"I'm here to reaffirm my deep conviction that we are greater together than we are on our own," Obama said. "I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, and when everyone plays by the same rules."

And in a video message e-mailed to supporters over the weekend, Obama hinted he would return to that theme.

"We can go in two directions" Obama said. "One is toward less opportunity and less fairness, or we can fight for where I think we need to go."

Look for more of that on Tuesday.

Debt

No issue confounded the White House more in 2011.

Battles with congressional Republicans over spending brought the United States government to the brink of shutdown, close to a possible default and contributed to the first-ever downgrade of the United States' credit rating.

And it's not over. The super committee, borne out of the debt ceiling debate, failed to complete its work.

Now, lawmakers have to find a way to avoid the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts that are scheduled to hit the budget in 2013.

Lawmakers from both parties say they are determined to prevent those deep cuts to the defense budget.

Obama has told lawmakers he will veto any attempt to circumvent those automatic cuts, and could pressure them to find another way on Tuesday night.

Taxes

Late last year, Congress agreed to a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday.

Watch for Obama to press Congress for another extension -- and clues on how he wants to pay for it.

Some in the GOP are wary the White House and Senate Democrats will try again to pass a surtax on millionaires -- something even some Democrats don't support -- as a way of painting the GOP as protectors of the rich.

It's also possible that Obama will bring up the "Buffett Rule."

A central theme in his debt-reduction proposal, the rule seeks to ensure that those making more than $1 million pay a higher percentage of their income in federal income and payroll taxes than those who make less.

Jobs plan

In September, Obama laid out a new jobs plan that was almost totally ignored by Congress.

What was in that plan? An infrastructure bank, $50 billion in immediate funding for highways, transit, rail and aviation, modernization of schools and vacant properties, subsidized jobs training and federal dollars for first responders, teachers and summer jobs.

While the economy appears to have improved since that speech was delivered, look for Obama to slip parts of his jobs plan into the State of the Union. To top of page

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