President Obama is resisting suggestions he call Congress back to address Wall Street's woes. Instead, he plans a heavy schedule over the next nine days designed to show his concern for the economy.
Before he takes his family on their annual trip to Martha's Vineyard, he will take his economic message to Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa – all politically important states – and also will stop in New York to raise more money for his reelection campaign. Not on the agenda as of Tuesday is a recall of Congress, as demanded by some tea party representatives and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. The most recent call came from Rep. Charles Rangel, D-NY. On MSNBC on Tuesday, Rangel said "there's no question" he should force Congress to spend August grappling with the economy.
Press Secretary Jay Carney got so many questions Monday about the topic that he jokingly called it “a drumbeat here to call Congress back from its recess.” He used the occasion to lobby again for the parts of the president’s economic agenda that are stalled in Congress and to call for action. “We should not waste any time here and ... we need to act with a sense of urgency,” he said, adding that the items on that agenda “could have been addressed already and should be addressed immediately upon the return of Congress.”
One senior official at the White House said the calls to force Congress to act in August are “a natural reaction” to the economic fallout from Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the U.S. credit rating and the precipitous decline in the stock market. People, he said, “say, ‘It’s a crisis, do something.’ Well, this isn’t something new. The economy has been in trouble for quite some time. And we have been doing things.”
But White House aides are quick to say the current crisis was triggered by Congress's performance during the messy and prolonged debate over raising the debt ceiling. Recalling the dysfunction on display there, the official asked: “Does anyone really think that bringing Congress back to town would build up anybody’s confidence?”
The White House has demanded congressional action to approve pending free-trade agreements, extend the payroll-tax cut into next year, extend unemployment compensation, and approve patent reform. But just having Congress back in town would not suddenly dissolve GOP opposition.
Politically, past presidents have summoned Congresses back to Washington from recess to highlight their failings. Most famously, President Harry S. Truman used his acceptance address at the 1948 Democratic National Convention to call back into session what he called the “do nothing 80th Congress.” He dared Republicans to enact into law the programs they had just included in their party platform.
But circumstances are decidedly different today, making that a less-useful political tool.
Instead, the president will be taking his economic message on the road for his latest attempt to seize the initiative and demonstrate that he is commanding the economic debate.
For the White House, getting through with an economic message has been a tough sell. Almost since Day One, there have been promised “pivots to jobs.” Last year, the message was “we really mean it this time” and aides talked hopefully of a “recovery summer.” But it never really blossomed and other – as always happens to presidents -- challenges kept intruding to keep the focus off of jobs. Even before Congress decided to draw a line on the debt ceiling, there was health care and Libya and Afghanistan and Iraq and the Arab Spring and earthquakes in Japan. Some were self-inflicted diversions. Some were unavoidable. But all kept the president from looking focused primarily on jobs as Democrats would prefer.
On Thursday, he tries again, traveling to Holland, Mich., to highlight a company that benefited mightily from his much-criticized stimulus package. Johnson Controls is an advanced battery factory that makes lithium-ion batteries for hybrid electric vehicles. The company received $299 million -- half of its initial funding -- from the stimulus act. Throughout his presidency, Obama has championed the development of advanced batteries, which he sees as key to reducing reliance on imported oil and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“While at Johnson Controls, the President will highlight the key role innovative technologies will play in helping automakers achieve the historic fuel-economy standards, establishing U.S. leadership in advanced vehicle manufacturing, spurring economic growth, and creating high-quality domestic jobs in cutting-edge industries across America,” said Carney at a briefing.
From Holland, the president will go to New York to raise money for the Democratic National Committee before returning to Washington.
Next week, he will embark on a three-day bus tour through Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa to stress what he is doing to strengthen economic recovery. The tour starts Monday in Minnesota before going on Tuesday to Peosta, Iowa. There, he will hold what the White House is calling a Rural Economic Forum on the campus of Northeast Iowa Community College.
On Wednesday, the bus goes to Illinois and the president will return to Washington before starting his vacation the next day.
The overall purpose of the bus trip, said Carney, will be on “what's going on in their local economies, what they think Washington can and should do to enhance economic growth, enhance job creation in their parts of the country.” Carney said Obama “looks forward to talking to the folks about growing the economy, creating jobs.”
The White House has defended the trip as a legitimate part of the president’s job. But at least one Republican presidential candidate has blasted it as inappropriate. Gingrich told Republicans in Tiffin, Iowa, that Obama should stay in Washington and call Congress back into session to address the economy. He called the tour “an insult to the intelligence of every American.”
But Carney brushed aside such criticism as cynical. “The idea that the president of the United States should not venture forth into the country is ridiculous,” he told reporters.