President Barack Obama’s vision for a middle-class economic agenda has been knocked off stride in the first six months of his second term, and he’ll try to fix that starting this week and heading into the big budget fights this fall.
After a winter and spring spent in a fruitless effort to enact gun legislation and a defeat of his push to replace the budget sequester, Obama will try to recapture the vision of a speech he gave at Knox College in 2005. He’s returning to the Illinois institution to speak on Wednesday.
That speech was given in sunnier economic times — the unemployment rate was 5 percent instead of the 7.6 percent today — with working people still struggling to recover after the recession even as Wall Street has surged to record highs. But Obama’s core economic message remains from that day, with a focus on the health of the middle class.
According to a senior administration official who asked not to be directly quoted, the president believes the nation still has a ways to go but that the economy has reached a level of stability and is ready for a debate over the long-term challenges the nation faces.
But too much of the past six months has been spent on issues such as the Benghazi, Libya, attacks or the Internal Revenue Service, and not enough on the economy, according to the official.
Press Secretary Jay Carney later told reporters that “fake scandals” had taken up too much time.
Obama will travel to various cities through the end of September to push aspects of his vision — housing, jobs, health care, education and retirement security — where he will tout a combination of new proposals, pieces of his agenda that have stalled in Congress and items he can do on his own.
But the president’s speech this week is aimed at more broadly outlining his vision and refocusing the national conversation and will not be a check list for Congress to approve — or more likely — ignore.
Indeed, the official expressed deep frustration with the House and its inability to pass much of anything, and offered no new way the president could take to change that in the short-term.
In particular, the official criticized Speaker John A. Boehner’s remarks during an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, in which he measured his own success in how many laws the House repeals.
Carney addressed the comment later, quipping “either way you judge, the results haven’t been particularly stellar.”
Carney said the White House continues to work with members of Congress to try and find a budget deal, but to date Republicans have yet to give the president a counter-offer to his December proposal, which the White House has kept on the table.
However, Carney said he believes Boehner does not want to default on the nation’s debt, unlike some Republicans, and reiterated the president’s position that he will not engage in more debt-limit deal-making.
“We’re not going to negotiate. ... We’re just not,” Carney said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.