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By Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will focus on “middle-class economics” in his State of the Union speech Tuesday, one of his senior advisers said, unveiling a message designed to challenge newly empowered Republicans on economic policy in the final two years of his presidency.

“It’s the simple proposition that now that the economy is in a stronger place than it’s been in a very long time, we need to double down on our efforts to deal with wage stagnation and declining economic mobility,” White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer said in an interview on the CBS program Face the Nation on Sunday.

The White House has already released the policies it hopes to use to frame the debate. On Saturday, officials said the president would call on Congress to raise taxes on top earners and impose a new fee on large financial firms to pay for tax credits aimed at low- and middle-class families. The $320 billion in new revenue would be used to pay for expanded higher education benefits, child care tax credits and retirement programs.

Pfeiffer acknowledged the plans aren’t tailored to appeal to Republicans, who took complete control of Congress this month.

“Are they going to agree on everything? Absolutely not, but I think we should have the debate in this country between middle-class economics and trickle-down economics and see if we can come to an agreement on the things we do agree on,” he said.

Republicans quickly rejected the White House’s proposals. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), also speaking on Face the Nation, called the president’s tax plan “an outdated model that no longer works in the 21st century.”

“The notion, first of all, that in order for some people to do better someone has to do worse is just not true,” Rubio said. “Raising taxes on people that are successful is not going to make people that are struggling more successful. The good news about free enterprise is that everyone can succeed without punishing anyone.”

A spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH) tried to use the president’s tenure against him.

“According to the administration’s own data, middle-class families now earn less and have a lower net worth than when President Obama came into office,” said spokesman Cory Fritz. “Instead of pushing more of the same top-down, Washington-knows-best policies that have failed, it’s time for President Obama to work with Republicans on common-sense solutions to help create jobs and boost wages.”

AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan

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