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POLITICS: PennAve

Obama's economic speeches aimed at shaping fall budget showdown

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Politics,White House,Barack Obama,Federal Budget,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,Economy,Budgets and Deficits

President Obama plans to head outside the Beltway to three states this week to lay out his latest vision for rebuilding the economy and creating jobs, but another message from the speeches is aimed squarely at Republicans in Congress as the White House tries to get a jump-start on framing what is expected to be a bruising budget debate this fall.

Obama will begin his three-state tour with an economic address on Wednesday at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., the site of the first big economic speech he delivered on a national stage back in 2005. He then will head to Warrensburg, Mo., later Wednesday and to Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday.

After the White House announced the travel, the Republican National Committee unveiled a new Twitter hashtag #speechesedon'thire, a reminder that the unemployment rate has been stuck above 7 percent for a 55th month in June, even as the economy regained six million jobs in recent years and stocks are soaring on Wall Street.

Across the country, several states and cities are in far worse shape. Detroit declared bankruptcy last week, and its mayor predicted it won't be the last, with 100 other cities experiencing tough budget problems.

Even reporters gave a collective eye-roll to the president's latest effort to put the economy at the front of his agenda with headlines noting that this week's speeches constituted Obama's eighth attempt to pivot his message back to the economy in recent years.

"It's like deja pivot when it comes to the economy," said NBC's Chuck Todd.

The White House readily acknowledged that speeches serve dual purposes as Congress prepares to leave town for a month for the August recess.

"There's no question that we have some very important matters to solve in the coming months here in Washington," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Monday, referring to the expected partisan budget showdown this fall. "What we're confident of is that the American people will not look kindly upon action taken here in Washington to shut down the government or default on our obligations in order to achieve political aims or to appease wings of political parties."

While Obama is highlighting the need to help the economy continue to expand, Carney said he also will be trying to point out the dire need to keep the government funded "to avoid the horrific problems to our economy that would be created even [by a] flirtation with default."

Obama's approval rating took a big hit in May after revelations about sweeping government surveillance and IRS targeting of conservative groups, and the White House is clearly worried that it will continue to dive during budget negotiations this fall. In 2011, Obama's poll numbers took a beating during a summer budget standoff that left the president looking weak and unable to broker a compromise.

Looking to avoid a replay, top White House officials have been meeting with at least a dozen senators in recent weeks to try to forge a path forward on the looming budget challenges facing both sides this fall, National Journal first reported last week.

The nation has another budget deadline this fall when it will hit its debt limit and Washington will be unable to pay its bills unless Congress increases the limit. The issue has become a perennial showdown in gridlocked Washington, and Republicans are again demanding cuts in spending to agree to raising the debt limit. The White House has already said it has no plans to cave to even some of the House Republicans' demands and is reaching out to Senate Republicans for potential leverage.

With House Republicans refusing to move a comprehensive Senate immigration bill and spending its time trying to repeal portions of Obamacare, both sides are pessimistic about reaching a deal without shutting down the government first.

Jim Manley, a former Democratic Senate leadership aide who now works in the private sector, said folks all over Washington are "just plain pessimistic" about the two sides reaching a budget deal this fall.

"There's a $90 billion difference between the House and Senate when it comes to spending bills, and the list of demands that House Republicans are making in return for raising the debt limit are not based on reality," he said. "Anyone who isn't pessimistic about where all of this is going in the fall needs to get their head examined - and better watch their 401(k) as well, because plenty of Republicans are prepared to tank the economy."

Congressional Correspondent Sean Lengell contributed to this report.

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Susan Crabtree

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner