Obama signals shift back to economic focus


The White House is signaling it wants to shift back to the economy after two weeks in which the Syrian crisis has dominated President Obama’s schedule and workload.

Obama will be “focusing” on issues related to the economy in the coming weeks, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday at his daily briefing.

 He said the president wants to push forward with economic policies that the White House believes will grow the middle class.

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Obama himself in his prime-time address to the nation Tuesday on Syria said voters wanted him focused on the economy and not on Syria. Public support for a military intervention in Syria is low.

“I know Americans want all of us in Washington — especially me — to concentrate on the task of building our nation here at home: putting people back to work, educating our kids, growing our middle class,” Obama said.

The president had wanted to use the beginning of September to press forward on his economic policies ahead of fights with Congress on government spending and debt.

Lawmakers must agree on a continuing resolution to fund the federal government by the end of September, which also marks the end of the fiscal year. If they fail to do so, the government would shut down, except for essential services.

The nation is also rapidly approaching the drop-dead date for hitting the debt ceiling, which restricts Washington’s ability to loan money and cover its payment obligations. An analysis released Tuesday by the Bipartisan Policy Center estimated the country would hit the debt ceiling sometime between Oct. 18 and Nov. 5. 

Obama had hoped to enter those battles with momentum from a mid-August campaign-style tour that included a college bus trip through the Northeast, a visit to an Amazon shipping facility in Tennessee and a discussion of mortgage reform in Arizona. 

The president had planned to continue that push this week, but that plan was knocked aside by the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syria’s government on Aug. 21.  

Obama’s scheduled travel to Los Angeles, where he was slated to speak before union members at the AFL-CIO convention, was canceled so he could make his case for military strikes on Syria.

Vice President Biden pressed the administration’s economic message with a Monday trip to Baltimore that highlighted a new $10 million federal grant to widen the city’s port and better connect the shipping center to nearby rail lines.

But that trip was overshadowed by a dinner he hosted the previous night at the Naval Observatory, where he and Obama lobbied a group of Republican senators to back air strikes against Syria.

Carney acknowledged Wednesday that “there is no question that Syria has consumed a lot of attention here in Washington, around the country, around the world.”

But the White House spokesman refused to make a “political assessment” about whether the situation in Syria had affected Obama’s domestic policy hand.

The administration and its allies seem ready to return to the economy.

On Monday, Organizing for Action, the political advocacy group born from the president’s reelection campaign, asked supporters to sign a petition demanding that Congress avert a government shutdown.

Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) emerged Tuesday from a Syria briefing with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough predicting that Congress would now “go back to our typical things, like the debt limit,” according to Reuters.


Indeed, attention on Capitol Hill seemed to have already shifted to the looming budget battle on Wednesday. House Republican leaders announced they would delay a vote on a continuing resolution that would have kept the government funded through Dec. 15, a move that highlighted the danger of a shutdown. 

GOP leaders are struggling to win support for their plan to keep the government funded at current levels while forcing the Senate to vote on a measure defunding ObamaCare.

Tea Party members in the GOP have criticized the bill because the legislation would allow the Democratic-controlled Senate to vote down the healthcare language. They prefer a bill that would condition keeping the government funded on delaying or defunding the healthcare law.

At the White House, Carney seemed to warm to the coming fight, saying the president would “not accept anything that delays or defunds ObamaCare.”

“Threatening a government shutdown over an ideological position is not something most Americans would believe is the right thing to do,” he said. “Harming the economy to refight old political battles, to refight a battle that was waged and ended when Congress passed the law, the president signed the law, the Supreme Court upheld the law is not in the interest of the American middle class. So we would obviously oppose that.”