President Obama will keep his "foot on the gas pedal" to get his economic stimulus bill passed as rapidly as possible, senior White House adviser David Axelrod told FOX News in a telephone interview Monday morning.
Axelrod denied the president has lost ground during the up-and-downs of congressional debate on the $800-plus billion spending and tax cut package -- the largest single expenditure designed to spur economic growth since the Great Depression.
"The public polling is still robust for us and for the plan," Axelrod said.
As to the perception in Washington that the new president may need to retool his legislative approach or rework his message, Axelrod said public support will propel the plan forward.
"We've been banging against conventional wisdom in Washington for more than two years. We have strong public support. The Washington chatter has been challenging but, as is often the case, Washington is the last place to get the news. If I paid attention to everything Washington said about us, I would have jumped off a bridge about a year-and-a-half ago," he said.
The Obama White House says a new Gallup survey released Monday showing a 67 percent approval rating for the president's handling of the stimulus plan indicates the public is sticking with Obama.
The survey gave congressional Republicans a 31 percent rating for its approach to the stimulus bill. In the survey, 51 percent said passing the Obama plan was "critically important" to improving the economy. Interestingly, the Obama "brand" runs well ahead of his party.
Congressional Democrats received a 48 percent approval rating for their role in the debate -- 19 points below Obama and 17 points ahead of the minority GOP. The poll surveyed 1,018 adults Feb. 6-7 and carries a 3 percent margin of error.
That Obama aides so quickly seized upon the Gallup numbers indicates a degree of insecurity that belies Axelrod's confidence. Still, it does appear Obama has in the public mind fared better than the current inside-the-Beltway perceptions suggest.
Axelrod said internal Democratic polling shows the recovery plan has remained in the mid-60s in popularity and rises to the mid-70s when pollsters hit key talking points about spending for education, the environment and infrastructure.
"The conventional wisdom is way off base," Axelrod said. "I don't think Washington understands the sense of concern in the public about the need to do something. That's why we're going to keep our foot on the gas pedal and get through the Washington grind."
Axelrod denied the president's travel to Indiana on Monday and to Florida on Tuesday signaled a need to restart the debate. "The town halls are a way to get back out there and get in the mix."
He said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's scheduled speech on plans for the second phase of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and new administration efforts to deal with wobbly home loans and declning bank stock values had to be delayed until Tuesday because of the stimulus debate.
"We need to focus on the debate on the stimulus. Geithner would have kind of gotten lost."
Axelrod said Monday's prime-time news conference -- the first of the Obama presidency -- will allow the president to underscore further the need for swift action. The White House doesn't want to see the stimulus bogged down in a time-consuming conference committee where the differing House and Senate bills must be merged into one.
Axelrod also said "no one has ever done anything like this since FDR" and that the president's mid-February deadline for passage of the bill remains realistic. Approval of a package that size would exceed the pace at which President Franklin D. Roosevelt tackled economic revitalization in his first 100 days in office.
Even so, Axelrod acknowledged a far bigger challenge lay ahead for Obama -- the sense of unmet expectations once his bill becomes law.
"We have to keep emphasizing and we will that this bill is not a panacea," Axelrod said. "It's going to take awhile for the economy to turn around."
But he predicted federal funds will flow rapidly and visibly and with Internet-guided information about spending projects the White House can remind voters where spending is going and what it is producing locally.
"Companies will begin hiring back and shovels will be going in the ground," he said.