President Obama moves into the second month of his administration with a renewed emphasis on the economy—Americans' No. 1 concern.
He is scheduled to hold a "fiscal responsibility" summit today to discuss more steps to relieve the financial crisis. Tomorrow night, he is set to give a primetime speech to a joint session of Congress that will focus mainly on the economy. And on Thursday, he will release his budget blueprint for next year.
It's all designed to maintain political momentum following passage of the $787 billion stimulus bill that Obama signed into law last week. Republicans are still complaining that the measure contains too much wasteful spending and not enough tax cuts, but Obama argues that the program will work and will help beleaguered Americans in both the long and short runs.
The White House, however, is focusing intently on the next steps. Last week, the administration unveiled the outlines of a $75 billion plan to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, addressing a serious problem that is damaging the housing market and the overall economy.
Over the weekend, Obama advisers said the budget plan will call for halving the current $1.3 trillion deficit, inherited from George W. Bush's administration, to $533 billion by 2013. If that proposal passes Congress, the government would be on a path to restrained spending by the time of the 2012 presidential election, when Obama would presumably be seeking a second term.
Obama provided a preview of his address to Congress and his budget during his weekly radio and Internet address on Saturday. "We can't generate sustained growth without getting our deficits under control," he said, adding that his budget will be "sober in its assessments, honest in its accounting," and will explain in detail his strategy for "restoring fiscal discipline."
Obama will also be offering signals about how he will deal with congressional Republicans who have, almost unanimously, opposed his stimulus plan. Only three Republicans in the Senate voted for it, and not a single Republican member of the House endorsed it. The Democrats control Congress, but Obama and his aides say he will continue trying to work with the GOP, and this week, he will give some sense of how aggressive he will be in that outreach. And it will be clearer how the GOP will respond.
Obama is operating from a strong position because he remains popular with the public. The latest McClatchy/Ipsos Poll found that 69 percent of Americans say he's doing a good job as president. The new Gallup Poll, announced this morning, has his approval rating somewhat lower, at 63 percent, but in the same range as other recent presidents at the one-month mark. The Gallup number is a drop from Obama's initial 68 percent approval in late January.