Published July 22, 2013
ObamaCare is getting rickety. The IRS scandal is expanding. And every few days, a new leak emerges about another U.S. surveillance tactic.
Time to change the subject?
President Obama, whose administration is grappling with a succession of burgeoning scandals and policy headaches, is trying to hit the reset as the summer drags on without any outright second-term victories under his belt. That effort begins Wednesday, when the president plans to kick off a series of addresses on an issue not without its own troubles -- the economy.
Obama's team tried to build the anticipation on Sunday, with senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer sending out an enthusiastic email about the upcoming event at an Illinois college -- one Obama previously visited as a U.S. senator.
"This Wednesday, almost five years after the financial crisis fueled a devastating recession, and two years after a debate over whether or not America would pay its bills that harmed our recovery, the President will return to Knox College to kick off a series of speeches that will lay out his vision for rebuilding an economy that puts the middle class and those fighting to join it front and center. He'll talk about the progress we've made together, the challenges that remain, and the path forward," Pfeiffer wrote.
The White House says the Wednesday speech at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., will be the first of many speeches on the economy Obama intends to deliver over the next several weeks ahead of key budget deadlines in the fall. A new fiscal year begins in October, and the government will soon hit its borrowing limit.
But the speech also comes as the administration tries to shake off a string of setbacks.
The administration earlier this month delayed a key provision of the federal health care overhaul -- a move which raised broader questions about the law's implementation, and prompted the House to vote last week for a delay of the law's insurance coverage requirements. Republicans still want to repeal the law entirely.
Separately, the controversy over the IRS' targeting of conservative groups -- a practice first revealed in May -- continues to build. While House Democrats allege that liberal groups may have been targeted too, House Republicans held a high-profile hearing last week where a retired worker alleged a political appointee's office was involved in screening Tea Party applications.
Add to that the trouble the administration, and Congress, have had on several legislative fronts. A comprehensive immigration bill cleared the Senate, but House Republican leaders are throwing the brakes on the legislation. House Speaker John Boehner again made clear in an interview on Sunday that the House will break the issue into smaller bills.
"The House does not like the Senate bill. It's one big, massive bill ," Boehner said on CBS' "Face the Nation. "What we're going to do in the House is we're dealing with this in a common sense, step-by-step approach."
Congress still hasn't passed a bill to roll back a recent hike on federally subsidized student loan rates -- something Obama has deemed a priority.
And the recent overthrow of Mohammed Morsi in Egypt has strained the administration to articulate a new policy toward the crucial Middle East country. It has so far declined to label the overthrow a coup, mindful of provisions that would require the U.S. to cut off military aid to the country. But it's also unclear whether the Egyptian military, which orchestrated the overthrow, will move quickly to call elections.
Pfeiffer, in his email to supporters, suggested the controversies in Washington over scandals and other issues are a distraction.
"The president thinks Washington has largely taken its eye off the ball on the most important issue facing the country," Pfeiffer said Sunday evening in a message sent to the White House's public email list. "Instead of talking about how to help the middle class, too many in Congress are trying to score political points, re-fight old battles and trump up phony scandals."
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday that Obama will be talking about where the economy needs to go from here.
"We have come a long way from the depths of the Great Recession," he said.
In his economic pitch, Obama will talk Wednesday about efforts to expand manufacturing, sign up the uninsured for health care coverage, revitalize the housing industry and broaden educational opportunities for preschoolers and college students. He will also promote the economic benefits of the immigration overhaul.
Obama is pushing to end the federal budget cuts that kicked in this year so they don't extend into the next fiscal year. That could create a showdown with congressional Republicans in September, as the end of the current fiscal year approaches. Some Republicans also want more deficit reduction as a price for raising the debt ceiling, a bargain Obama says he will not make.
Republicans are fundamentally opposed to Obama's mix of budget cuts and tax increases. It wasn't until after last year's election that Republicans agreed to increase taxes for the wealthiest Americans in a deal that kept taxes for most Americans at rates set during the administration of President George W. Bush.
Appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday, Boehner said the way to get the economy moving again is by stopping unnecessary regulations and bringing the federal deficit under control.
Describing "this new normal of slow economic growth, no increase in jobs that are available, wages are being basically frozen," Boehner said: "We're squeezing the middle class. And I would argue the president's policies are getting in the way of the economy growing, whether it's Obamacare, whether it's all these needless regulations that are coming out of the government."
Pfeiffer said Obama will unveil some new ideas, outline steps Congress can take and identify measures he can initiate on his own.
"He'll talk about the progress we've made together, the challenges that remain and the path forward," Pfeiffer said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.