July 23, 2013

Obama speech goal: Refocus on economy

His middle-class themes had been set aside while he dealt with the fiscal crisis and gun debate.

By SCOTT WILSON The Washington Post

WASHINGTON – President Obama will deliver a series of speeches this week designed to push the economy, and his proposals to ensure its long-term growth, toward the center of the national political debate after months of focus on other issues.

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President Barack Obama addresses an Organizing for Action summit in Washington, Monday, July 22, 2013. The president will deliver a series of speeches this week designed to push the economy – and his proposals to ensure its long-term growth – toward the center of the national political debate after months of focus on other issues. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

White House officials described the effort as a way for the president to revisit some of the economic themes he has spoken about since his early days in the U.S. Senate and to outline how he intends to appeal to Congress and the public to secure his goals in the months ahead.

Obama will seek to remind the country, beginning with this week's three scheduled speeches over two days, that the middle class remains imperiled by the lack of progress in Congress on his proposed job-creating measures and by Republican fiscal priorities. The push is meant to frame the debate around his economic agenda in the remaining summer months before Congress takes up some of his budget proposals this fall.

"The president thinks Washington has largely taken its eye off the ball on the most important issue facing the country," senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer wrote in a mass email that described the White House's focus on the economy in the weeks ahead.

"Instead of talking about how to help the middle class, too many in Congress are trying to score political points, refight old battles, and trump up phony scandals," he continued. "And in a couple of months, we will face some more critical budget deadlines that require congressional action, not showdowns that only serve to harm families and businesses -- and the president wants to talk about the issues that should be at the core of that debate."

Since the start of his second term, Obama has spent much of his political energy working to avert a new fiscal crisis with Republicans and attempting, but failing, to win tighter gun-control measures in Congress.

Improving the economy -- one of the chief reasons for his election and among the most difficult challenges he has faced in office -- has faded as an issue in Washington amid steady if unspectacular job gains and modest economic growth. A Washington Post-ABC News poll in May found that 56 percent of Americans think the economy is improving, the highest number to say so since early 2009.

Obama won re-election in large part on a message of economic populism -- a promise to protect the middle class from what he described as potentially harmful tax and budget policies promoted by Republicans.

He devoted much of the first State of the Union address of his second term to the same theme, describing the importance of the government's role in training the next generation of workers for a new economy; building and improving airports, roads and trading hubs; and making college affordable for more Americans. But his agenda has faced stiff opposition in Congress, particularly in the Republican-controlled House.

During his travel this week to Illinois, Missouri and Florida, Obama will try to elevate the issue at a time when immigration legislation and foreign policy challenges in the Middle East are defining Washington's political debate.

White House officials said the three speeches will not offer new proposals or approaches, including the use of executive actions to sidestep congressional opposition. Instead, officials said, Obama will outline in broad terms his view of the economic debate ahead.

More-specific speeches -- on college affordability, federal spending on education and road-building, efforts to promote manufacturing, and health care -- will follow in the coming weeks.

"We welcome the president's focus on the economy," Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Sunday. "But given that so many are still struggling after nearly five years, it's clear his agenda of higher taxes and higher spending isn't the answer."

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