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Obama's State of the Union Speech to Focus on Economy

U.S. President Barack Obama is appearing before a joint session of Congress at this hour, giving his annual State of the Union address expected to focus on jobs and the nation's fragile economy.

The president is expected to say that it is the time to reignite the "true engine of America's economic growth -- a rising, thriving middle class."

In excerpts as prepared for delivery, the president says it is the unfinished task to restore the idea that if Americans work hard and meet their responsibilities, that they can get ahead, no matter where they come from, what they look like, or who they love.

Mr. Obama is expected to say that a "smarter government" is needed -- not a bigger one. He is expected to announce additional proposals to move the country forward.

Senior administration aides say Mr. Obama will urge lawmakers to approve legislation to invest in projects to boost the economy, including infrastructure, research and education. The president also is expected to link the economy with the issue of climate change with a call for increased spending on clean energy projects.

On Afghanistan, President Obama is expected to announce that about half of the U.S. forces currently serving there -- roughly 34,000 -- will be home within a year. At its peak in the decade-long war, the United States had about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. A full transfer of security control from NATO to the Afghan forces is scheduled for 2014.

Mr. Obama also will urge Congress to pass legislation on two issues currently under debate on Capitol Hill: gun control and immigration reform.

On trade, sources close to the administration say the president will announce the start on negotiations on a free trade agreement between the United States and the European Union. The 27-nation EU is the United States' largest trading partner.

The New York Times reports Mr. Obama will also propose dramatic cuts in the world's nuclear arsenals. The newspaper says the president will build upon an agreement he has reached with the Pentagon to reduce the number of U.S. nuclear weapons from 1,700 to slightly more than 1,000.

For the Republican response, Senator Marco Rubio is expected to say that a "free enterprise economy" is the source of middle-class prosperity, while accusing President Obama of believing it is the cause of the country's economic woes.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the president is required "from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."

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