Money Morning Staff Reports
Fixing the economy will top the agenda when U.S. President Barack Obama addresses Congress tonight (Tuesday) in a televised prime-time speech that will be watched by millions – and which is likely to be the topic of debate for days to come.
It is the first chance for the newly elected President Obama to update the country on his administration's progress during its first month in office, and to make his case for more-aggressive action on the financial crisis, the budget deficit, energy, education and health care.
The speech – which will have all the trappings of a State of the Union address, though it isn't one – also comes just two days before President Obama is to deliver a budget blueprint to Congress. However, unlike that carefully crafted document, tonight's speech will allow the new president to tell lawmakers – and the America people – what he wants to do.
The State of the Union is an annual message that the president delivers to a joint session of Congress. The tradition started in 1934 and typically takes place in January (although there have been six times it was delivered in February. However, the State of the Union address is typically not delivered in the year during which a new president is elected.
In recent years, in fact, newly elected presidents have delivered speeches to Congress that are not officially considered State of the Union addresses, but give the new leader the opportunity to detail his or her legislative agenda for their first year in office.
The President will likely take the opportunity to include a harsh review of unprecedented federal spending – now at the highest levels since World War II as a percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Such massive outlays raise concerns about skyrocketing federal debt, inflation, and especially the country's indebtedness to China, which is helping to pay for his $787 billion stimulus plan by buying U.S. Treasury securities.
By President Obama's account, his administration inherited the $1.3 trillion dollar deficit from the Bush administration along with the financial crisis, which forced him to pursue the costly stimulus package. Yesterday the President vowed to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term.
"I refuse to leave our children with debt they cannot repay," he told reporters.
Obama press spokesman Robert Gibbs said last week that the Obama's speech will focus mostly on efforts to revive the economy. Other probable topics include health care reform, the military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan and social security.
However, some feel it's time for President Obama to change his public face and present some form of optimism, instead of focusing on the country's multitude of problems.
"The biggest thing I see here is the incredible pessimism," Keith Springer President of Capital Financial Advisory told the Associated Press. " ."
The first speech by a new president to a joint session of Congress is one of Washington's magnificent ceremonial events, points out Tom Curry, National Affairs writer for MSNBC.
In a House chamber filled by members of the House and Senate, accompanied by dark-gowned Supreme Court justices, members of the diplomatic corps, and an "ordinary hero" or two chosen for the occasion, such speeches make for great theater, Curry says.
Just as Hollywood has the Academy Awards, tonight will be Washington's night in the spotlight, featuring members of both parties leaping to their feet to applaud their favorite statements and groan with dismay at passages they don't.
And now that the Democrats have control of both Congress and the executive branch, Obama's speech amounts to a coming-out party – one that comes at a particularly opportune time.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken last Thursday through Sunday shows the President received strong grades for his first full month in office, as the majority of Americans expressed support for his $787 billion stimulus package and $75 billion plan for stemming foreclosures.
Overall, 68% approve of his job performance, as he gathered approval ratings of 90% among Democrats and 67% among independents. A whopping 80% say he is meeting or exceeding their expectations. But his bipartisan support appears to be sliding fast as only 37% of Republicans approve of how he doing his job, down sharply from a month ago when 62% gave him good marks.
So, at least for now, the Democrats are riding a wave of support unseen in recent years in Washington. You can expect them to celebrate their good fortune during tonight's nationally televised event.
News and Related Story Links:
Fixing economy to be focus of Obama's address to Congress.
- Associated Press:
Obama speech Tuesday: A time for theater
Obama Gets High Marks in First Month