WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will propose in his State of the Union address a package of modest initiatives aimed at helping middle class families, including tax credits for child care, caps on some student loan payments and a requirement that companies let workers save automatically for retirement, senior administration officials said Sunday.
By focusing on what one White House official calls "the sandwich generation" — struggling families squeezed between sending their children to college and caring for elderly parents — Obama hopes to use his speech on Wednesday to demonstrate that he understands the economic pain of ordinary Americans. The proposals also include expanded tax credits for retirement savings and money for programs to help families care for elderly relatives.
The address is still being written, but one senior official, describing it on condition of anonymity, said its key themes would include "creating good jobs, addressing the deficit, helping the middle class and changing Washington."
With his poll numbers down and Democrats fearing disaster in this year's midterm elections, Obama is at a particularly rocky point in his presidency. He heads into his first formal State of the Union speech in a radically reshaped political climate from even one week ago. His top domestic priority, a health care overhaul, is in jeopardy after the Republican victory in last week's Massachusetts Senate race.
The president's proposals are intended to appeal to people who are struggling financially without looking like another broad expansion of the federal government. They also would add little to the federal deficit at a time when Obama is pledging to reduce it.
While Obama has been shifting his focus toward job creation in recent weeks, an official said the president also wanted to spotlight what one called "critical areas where middle class families need a helping hand to get ahead" — like paying for college and saving for retirement.
Such programs are, notably, much less far-reaching than Obama's expansive first-year agenda.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden plan to outline the proposals on Monday when they meet with the White House task force that has spent the past year examining ways to help the middle class.