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US Legislators Set Goals Before Key Obama Speech

President Barack Obama during last year's State of the Union address before a joint session of both houses of Congress, 27 Jan 2010

Tuesday, President Barack Obama will lay out his legislative agenda for the year in his second State of the Union address - the first since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives. Democratic and Republican legislators agree on some broad economic objectives for the nation, but differ sharply on the policies needed to achieve those goals.

Last week, President Obama spoke repeatedly about what will likely be the central themes of his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress: economic growth and job creation.

"The past two years were about pulling our economy back from the brink," he said. "The next two years, our job now, is putting our economy into overdrive."

Democratic Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota echoed Obama’s words when asked what he wants to hear in the president’s speech.

"Number one: growing the economy and jobs," said Conrad.

Conrad spoke on ABC’s This Week program.

Republicans say they, too, want to boost economic growth and spur job creation. But they insist the way to do that is to sharply reduce the size and scope of the federal government and put private enterprise in the driver’s seat.

"We have got a huge spending problem," said Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Fox News Sunday. "We have had over a trillion-dollar annual deficit each of the last two years. Our friends on the other side [Democrats] passed a budget a couple of years ago that will double the national debt in five years and triple it in 10. Most of us think, and the American people think, that we need to do something about this and start doing it now."

Democrats say they too are committed to deficit reduction, but they warn against cutting programs and initiatives they see as vital to America’s long-term prosperity.

"We are in competition in the world for jobs," said Democratic Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois. "And if we are going to make it in the USA in terms of our success and making products, we have to focus on educating and innovating. We cannot be so laser focused on the deficit that we ignore the obvious. You cannot end the deficit unless you start putting America back to work."

With control of Congress divided between the two parties, consensus and compromise are seen as essential to passing legislation. Obama is sure to urge bipartisanship in his State of the Union address. The months ahead will test if that call is heeded.