President Barack Obama, halfway through his second term, is set to deliver his sixth State of the Union address on Tuesday night before a House and Senate now controlled by Republicans. Mainers on Monday who talked about what they would like to hear Obama say differed on the issues important to them, but they were united about wanting to see whether he is willing and able to work with Congress to get something done.

Ricky Parlin, of Mercer, said he thinks it’s unlikely that Obama and Congress will start working together anytime soon.

“They each have their own agenda, and it’s a power struggle,” said Parlin, 67, a broker at Whittemore’s Real Estate on Water Street in Skowhegan.

He cited a pending bill that would authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline project, a 1,700-mile pipeline that would bring crude oil from Canada to the U.S. Obama has vowed to veto the bill after House and Senate Republicans send it to his desk. “With the Keystone oil project, you know Republicans are going to push it through and then Obama is going to veto it. In the meantime, nothing else is getting done.”

Parlin said that health care is among the top issues facing the nation, as is immigration and poverty.

Jack Rozelle, a 69-year-old retiree from Portland, said unity with Congress was on his mind, too.

“I’d like to hear him say he is going to accomplish something instead of vetoing or sidestepping (Congress) or not being cooperative,” said Rozelle. “It seems as though we need action.”

Pamela Lanz, 64, of Gorham said she, too, wants to see the president find more compromise with lawmakers, although she’s not convinced that will happen.

“I’ve been discouraged ever since he became president because I had high hopes,” Lanz said. “I think a lot of things he’s tried have been stymied. … But I think his heart is in the right place.”

A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Monday showed Obama with an approval rating of 50 percent, his highest since May 2013 and similar to President Ronald Reagan’s poll numbers when he began his last two years in office.

However, that same poll revealed that the president’s opposition remains fiercer than his support. Roughly 35 percent of those polled strongly opposed Obama, while 24 percent strongly supported him. Among Republicans, with whom he must now work to accomplish anything, he has just a 14 percent approval rate.

Some details of the president’s State of the Union speech remain unknown, but enough details have been revealed to offer a glimpse.

His message is likely to be tailored to the middle class, specifically a renewed plan to shift the income tax burden from middle class workers to higher earners by expanding tax credits to working parents and students and closing tax breaks for the wealthy.

“I love the idea,” said Jacob Tyler Michaud, 22, of Portland. “But in regards to what’s best or what’s right, I don’t know. Taxes are tricky.”

Emily Joy, 27, who works in Portland and lives in Westbrook, said she wants to hear more details about the president’s tax plan but is not convinced it’s the right way to go.

Specifics aside, she said she doesn’t believe the president has been listening to the people.

“We need to start working together. We’re hurting,” said Joy, who is expecting a child in two weeks. “What kind of future (is my child) going to have?”

Obama also is expected to talk more about his plan to make community college free to some Americans, an initiative that comes with an estimated price tag of $60 billion.

Sarah Oullette, 27, of Madison, said she’s hoping to hear more details about that plan.

Oullette, who was outside the Augusta Barnes & Noble Monday afternoon, said she already has student loans to pay off, but she thinks it would be useful for the next generation of college students.

She said she would also like to hear if Obama has plans to help people with student debt like herself.

“It’s always interesting to hear what he has to say,” Oullette said.

Alexandra Welch, 17, a senior at Lincoln Academy in Damariscotta, said she loves the idea of free tuition.

“I don’t think you necessarily need to go to college for a job, especially in Maine, but it is important to have well-educated citizens,” she said.

Joy said she likes the idea, too, but not if it means more government spending.

Rozelle said he thinks funding community colleges is a great way for taxes to be spent.

Mainers interviewed Monday said they would like to see the president talk about other issues as well.

In Skowhegan, Trudy Hill, 54, said she has been out of work since suffering a heart attack in 2006 and that she would like Obama to talk about how the government will do more to help disabled people.

“I would really like to see the President do something more for us disabled individuals,” she said. “We’re treated like the lowest of the low and I’m tired of it.” She added that she would like to see improved dental care for people who can’t afford it. MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, does not currently offer dental benefits except in rare circumstances.

“I’d really like to see dental and eye care available for more people,” Hill said.

Welch said she would like to see Obama come out forcefully in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide.

Joy said she doesn’t think the president has done enough to quell the violence posed by ISIS, the jihadist group operating in Syria and Iraq.

Lanz said she wants to hear more about immigration.

Matthew Gagnon, CEO of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a right-leaning small government policy organization, said none of the details of Obama’s speech that have come out so far are particularly bold.

Gagnon said he would personally like to see the president strike a more conciliatory tone, similar to the one former President Clinton adopted after the 1994 election that saw Republicans take control of Congress.

“He changed his focus, his rhetoric,” Gagnon said of Clinton. “I’d like to hear this president do something similar. I don’t expect him to abandon his principles, but he can recognize the will of voters.”

Clinton, in his State of the Union address in 1996, declared that “the era of big government is over.” He then worked with Republicans in the next legislative session to pass the landmark Welfare Reform Act.

Gagnon is less hopeful that Obama will be as willing to cooperate.

“It seems he’s gone in the opposite direction. He’s become more combative,” he said.

Phil Bartlett, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, said Democrats are excited about Obama’s speech and his initiatives, particularly his plans to provide tax relief for the middle class.

“He’s going to talk about the importance of protecting the middle class,” Bartlett said. “Average Americans have not benefited from any economic growth. They’re being left behind.”

Bartlett said he believes the president will continue to express a “willingness and eagerness” to work with Republicans in Congress, but not at the expense of compromising his own progressive vision.

He said Clinton did work with Congress in some areas but also used his executive authority in others, and he expects Obama to do the same.

Kennebec Journal staff writer Paul Koenig and Morning Sentinel staff writer Rachel Ohm contributed to this story


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