State of the Union speeches often fade from memory days after the fact, but the president is bringing his January address front and center again. He travels to Austin, Texas, Thursday to talk about his plans for economic growth, shifting the national conversation back to his January jobs message.
In an effort to help boost economic growth, the White House on Thursday announced two new executive actions. One will create three new manufacturing innovation institutes, partnerships between public universities and private firms, in order to spur more innovation in the industry. The other will make vast amounts of government data available online, likewise aimed at spurring innovation and helping startups to launch.
The trip is part of the president's "Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tours," and comes after months of a national policy debate dominated by gun control, immigration, and long-term budget issues. Meanwhile, the nation's job growth has remained solid but unremarkable, with 165,000 new jobs added in April.
Manufacturing has been a key part of the Obama's economic messaging during the course of his presidency. Employment in manufacturing has declined sharply since the start of the 21st century, shedding 6 million jobs from the late 1990s through early 2010. Manufacturing was, in its heyday, a stronghold of middle-class jobs, and bringing that employment back has been front and center in the administration's outreach to average Americans amid a slow economic recovery.
Obama is focused on "putting in place the policies that will make the U.S. a magnet for the strong middle-class jobs of the future," said Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, in a call with reporters Thursday. "A big part of that has been our focus on manufacturing, particularly advanced manufacturing."
The White House last year established a manufacturing institute with dozens of both academic and private-sector members in Youngstown, Ohio. The new executive order would use $200 million, most of it coming from the Defense and Energy departments, to establish three new institutes. Altogether, the president wants Congress to spend $1 billion to create 15 such institutes.
Since early 2010, manufacturing has experienced a slow but steady drip of new jobs. Sperling spoke of the possibility of a "manufacturing renaissance" and credited the Obama administration with boosting auto manufacturing employment. However, it's unclear to what extent policy could truly bring back the more than 7 million jobs lost since the industry's 1979 peak. While some jobs have gone overseas, technological advancement has also made the industry more efficient, meaning a need for fewer workers.
Technology may have killed some manufacturing jobs, but the administration is banking on it creating new companies and new growth in its second executive order. Making government data more available will help tech start-ups to create apps and spur economic activity, said Steven VanRoekel, U.S. Chief Information Officer, on Thursday.
He used the example of how open data could boost the housing market.
"We hold huge potential here to really enhance house purchasing," said VanRoekel. "I as a potential homebuyer want to know: what are crime statistics in the area? Is there an organic farm within 25 miles of my house?"
Though the president is headed to the Lone Star State to promote his jobs initiatives, one Republican thinks Obama should spend time observing as well.
"I hope the president will come to Texas ready to take a few notes and learn from one of the most successful states in the nation when it comes to job creation and economic growth," said Texas Sen. John Cornyn in a statement on Obama's trip.
For the administration, trying to change the conversation doesn't change the fact of looming policy battles on other fronts. According to pool reports, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters today that the administration is ready to fight, should there be a new debt ceiling impasse among lawmakers.
"We are not negotiating over Congress's responsibility to pay the bills that they incur. Period," he said.