5 Things to Expect at the State of the Union Address

White House press secretary Jay Carney was asked at today's briefing about how Obama expects to push this bin of recycled items, particularly the campaign-era refrain about an emphasis on the middle class, and gave a glass-half-full preview: "Well, the economy is not in a worse place than it was before. If you talk about the comparison between now and when he gave his first State of the Union address, there is no comparison. We were in economic freefall," Carney said. "What the President has been saying and I’m sure will say again is that we are at a moment when the economy is poised to continue to grow, to continue to build on the progress we’ve made, to continue to build on the job creation that we’ve achieved -- over 6.1 million jobs created by our businesses over the past 35 or 36 months."

Prom dates: There was hardly a Hill journalist -- yours truly included -- who didn't mock the idea two years ago of somehow easing partisan rancor by picking a member of the opposing party to sit with during the State of the Union. It was just after the Tucson shooting in which Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) was seriously wounded, and partisan rhetoric was being blamed as much as nonpartisan triggerman Jared Loughner. So a 96-year-old tradition of across-the-aisle seating was abandoned and lawmakers scrambled to find their SOTU buddy. Not only did this result in a mixed chamber where we were denied the visual of one side cheering, booing, standing, what have you, it was an odd artificial display of unity in a chamber where Harry Reid is ready to whip out his old-school boxing moves any moment.

This year it appears that prom dates for the State of the Union is a new normal. Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) encouraged congressional leaders to keep up the warm and fuzzies. “This year, as we begin a new Congress, we are again asking our colleagues to sit together as representatives of the American people and not just representatives of political parties,” Udall and Murkowski wrote. “Political differences will always generate a healthy debate, but too often these differences prevent each side from even coming to the table to work toward the compromises and common-sense solutions our constituents want.” About half of the members of Congress have succumbed to peer pressure over the past two SOTU addresses and picked a bipartisan date.

Fight-picking: Regardless of whether members want to pretend they like each other, Obama will not be eager to craft any illusions that he wants to meet the GOP halfway. He's going to raise a fuss if it becomes apparent by tomorrow night -- after tomorrow's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing for Chuck Hagel -- that his nominees won't have smooth sailing through Congress. He's going to accuse the GOP of stonewalling, obfuscating, and being extremist. He's going to try to get an eye roll on camera, another Wilson yell, a middle finger from Nugent, something he can milk for everything it's worth in his quest to paint his opponents as opposite of American consensus. And he knows that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is giving the Republican rebuttal -- and that should get a good number of viewers -- so he's going to try to prebut the rebut by studying American-dream messages and administration criticisms in Rubio's past speeches.

For now, he's left that up to Democratic National Committee chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). “I think because Sen. Rubio has been asked to do the rebuttal for the State of the Union and he’s from Florida, and the major politics of the Republican Party, which they have not shied away since the election, despite the election results, make it so that he is particularly open to criticism,” Wasserman Schultz said in a conference call.