WASHINGTON – If President Barack Obama’s new focus on the economy sounds familiar, that’s because he’s done it before.
Since the first year of his presidency, Obama has been launching – and re-launching – initiatives on the economy. Some came with new policy proposals, others with catchy slogans.
Remember 2011’s “Winning the Future” campaign? Or the “We Can’t Wait” initiatives that followed later that year? Just a few months ago, Obama was headlining the “Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour.”
So far there’s no slogan attached to the White House’s latest initiative, which kicks off Wednesday in Galesburg. The president’s advisers are billing his remarks as a major address on the economy, though no new initiatives are expected to be announced.
However, aides say there will be some fresh policy proposals in a series of follow-up speeches planned through September, most of which will be narrowly targeted on issues like housing, retirement security and expanding access to education.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama’s repeated attempts to orient his public agenda on the economy should serve as a reminder that “the president has always been focused on these issues.”
“That doesn’t mean we don’t need to continue to remind people that improving the economic situation in America is the principle reason why our fellow citizens elect and send people to Washington,” Carney said.
But congressional Republicans, who continue to be a roadblock for many of the president’s economic proposals, dismissed the White House’s new public relations push as a retread of old ideas.
“We’ve seen this song and dance before,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “Whether it’s his health care law, his job-destroying energy policies, or the mountain of regulations piling up, it’s the president’s own policies that are responsible for this new normal of weak economic growth and high unemployment.”
Still, the timing of Obama’s latest economic initiative underscores the degree to which jobs and growth have been overshadowed in Washington since the president began his second term. That’s been driven in part by the White House, which has invested significant time on other areas of the president’s agenda, including the failed effort to enact stricter gun laws and the push for immigration reform, which succeeded in the Senate but faces an uncertain future in the House.
A series of foreign policy crises, like the Syrian civil war and Egyptian coup, have also competed for the White House’s attention.
So have a flurry of recent controversies, including the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of political groups, the Justice Department’s seizure of journalists’ phone records, and renewed attention on the investigation into the deadly attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
All the while, the economy has slowly but steadily improved. The housing market is coming back, the stock market is on the rise and consumer confidence is near its highest levels of Obama’s presidency. Nationwide unemployment is also falling, although at 7.6 percent, it still remains high.
But a new round of fiscal deadlines threaten to upend that progress, adding urgency to the White House’s desire to get the economy back on Washington’s radar – while at the same time trying to get the public to side with the president’s economic vision.
The potential fiscal showdown in September will focus on the debt ceiling and the automatic federal budget cuts that kicked in earlier this year. Obama wants to end the cuts before they extend into the next fiscal year. And some Republicans want more deficit reduction in exchange for raising the nation’s borrowing limit, a bargain Obama says he would not back.
Obama’s aides say that while Wednesday’s address and subsequent events will touch on the looming fiscal fights, they say they do not see the speech as a legislative negotiating tactic. Nor will the president lay out an economic “to-do” list for Congress, reflecting the White House’s recognition that many of the president’s proposals would almost certainly face opposition on Capitol Hill, particularly in the Republican-led House.
And that dynamic, just like Obama’s repeated economic PR campaigns, may again leave the public with a feeling that they’ve been here before.