Obama: Congress is the problem

If the 1992 presidential campaign was defined by the slogan “It’s the economy, stupid,” then President Obama wants 2012’s slogan to be “It’s the economy — and Congress is stupid.”

Obama will follow up his jobs speech Thursday to a joint session of Congress with a months-long campaign across the country intended to put congressional Republicans on the hot seat.

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Democrats familiar with the president’s plans said Obama’s speech, reported to contain between $200 billion and $300 billion in tax cuts, unemployment insurance, aid to state and local governments and infrastructure spending, marks a new phase after a rough summer that saw the economy stagger and the president’s poll numbers reach new lows.

While the focus of the new phase is creating jobs, the practical application means targeting Congress for any inaction or political game-playing when the economy is in crisis.

Even though Democrats familiar with the president’s thinking insist that he and his aides view the 2012 election as a distant concern that the Chicago headquarters will worry about, the focus on jobs shows the White House believes the next few months are critical to Obama’s presidency. 


By the end of the year, those officials said, voters will have no doubt about what Obama wants or what he stands for when it comes to programs that would help revive the economic recovery. 

But that won’t be accomplished with one speech, they acknowledged, which necessitates the need to launch the full campaign. 

Through the speech and the subsequent events on the road, beginning with a Friday visit to Richmond, Va., Obama will seek to show Americans that he shares their frustrations, officials said. The speech is being described as a kick-off to a debate expected to occupy the rest of the year and next year’s presidential elections. 

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday refused to discuss any specifics of Obama’s speech or proposals on jobs, including price tags. But he did say the Obama package would be paid for, meaningful and have an immediate impact on the economy if approved by Congress. 

“You can be sure that they will be specific, they will be measurable, they will be paid for and they will be, by any objective standard, the kinds of measures that have enjoyed bipartisan support in the past,” Carney said.

The Obama White House suffered when job predictions for its $787 billion economic stimulus package fell short, and Obama appears unlikely to announce how many jobs his latest proposals would create.

“Specific predictions about how much growth and how much job creation, I think, will come from outside observers who analyze the proposal,” said Carney, who didn’t completely rule out White House projections. 

During an August bus tour through three states in the Midwest, Obama lashed out at Congress, at one point saying it would be better for lawmakers not to return to Washington to work on the economy given the damage they did during the divisive debt-limit debate. 

Obama’s summer comments were notable in that the president didn’t focus his ire on congressional Republicans, but on the body of Congress itself. 

Democrats familiar with Obama’s speech said that pattern will continue on Thursday, though Obama does see Republicans, and particularly Tea Party Republicans, as the main obstacle to his proposals. 

If those members don’t want to join Obama in trying to create jobs immediately, officials said, then they will face their own political problems.

Democrats familiar with the president’s plan said that the White House believes Congress is facing pressure to create jobs just like the president is. House Republicans and the White House could both see some blame given stagnant job growth; in August, the nation added zero net jobs. 

House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorRepublicans who vow to never back Trump NRCC upgrades 11 'Young Guns' candidates Cruz, Kasich join forces to stop Trump MORE (R-Va.) on Wednesday appeared to signal Republicans see a vulnerability, too. He told reporters that the GOP conference needed to focus on growing the economy after months dedicated to cutting spending. 

“The fact is, for the last eight months-plus, we’ve been about cuts,” Cantor said. “That’s why it is imperative that all of us join together, work with the president, to see how we can grow this economy.”

The pressure, officials said, will only increase as Obama raises his voice around the country. This is particularly true given dissatisfaction with the way policymakers handled the debt deal, Carney said. 

He told reporters Wednesday that voters are “enormously frustrated when Washington doesn’t just do nothing, but actually causes harm to the economy, which is exactly what happened this summer, when a slice of the Congress held Washington hostage in pursuit of an ideological victory.”

Obama thinks GOP lawmakers heard this frustration at home over the August recess and will be more willing to meet him on policy this fall.