After weeks of focus on Syria, Obama pivots to the economy

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the nation in a live televised speech from the East Room of the White House on September 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. Evan Vucci-Pool/Getty Images

Facing an overwhelmingly united front against his request for U.S. intervention in Syria, President Obama will pivot to the economy Monday, five years after the Lehman Brothers' collapse on Wall Street signaled the start of the nation's ongoing financial crisis.

Small business owners, construction workers, homeowners, consumers and tax cut recipients who have benefited from the administration's economic recovery moves will flank the president in the White House Rose Garden for remarks trumpeting the "progress we have made to grow the economy and create 7.5 million private sector jobs" during the past five years, according to a White House official.

The timing is right: In just over two weeks, on Oct. 1, the government could shut down should lawmakers fail to strike a budget deal to replace the expiring continuing resolution.

It's also opportune, politically, for the president, who for the past several weeks has been mired in trying to win over a largely skeptical audience since asking Congress to OK his request for military intervention in civil war-torn Syria.

Though he tried to deflect early criticisms lobbed at him for failing to fix the economy fast enough, taking credit for concrete boosts in the job and housing markets can only help Mr. Obama's flagging approval rating. A recent CBS News/New York Times poll shows 48 percent of Americans disapprove of how the president has handled the economy, as opposed to 46 percent who approve. Over the summer, a CBS News poll revealed that 61 percent continue to rate the state of the U.S. economy as in bad shape, while just 37 percent classify it as good.

"Let's think about where we were five years ago," the president told ABC News in an interview that aired Sunday. "The economy was on the verge of a great depression. In some ways, actually, the economic data and the collapse of the economy was worse than what happened in the 1930s. And we came in, stabilized the situation. We've now had 42 straight months of growth, seven and a half million new jobs created, 500,000 jobs in manufacturing, 370,000 jobs in the auto industry that had completely collapsed.

"The banking system works," he went on. "It is giving loans to companies who can get credit. And so we have seen, I think undoubtedly, progress across the board. The housing market has recovered. But what is also true is we're not near where we need to be."

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Hank Paulson, who served as President George W. Bush's treasury secretary during the 2008 financial meltdown, agreed the current rate of economic growth is "not enough," but argued "in many ways, it's something we can take satisfaction in, given the amount of deleveraging that needed to be done." He suggested the 2008 meltdown wasn't as bad as the Great Depression - but "easily could have been."

"What we did was very unpopular," Paulson said, because "we never made the case - I was never able to make the case - that what we did was for the American people to prevent economic disaster; it wasn't for the bankers." The best path forward, he continued, would be to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which the government took control of as part of the 2008 bailout.

Mr. Obama on that note made the case for his administration as having "strengthened the entire banking system so that, you know, 'too big to fail' is far less likely to be in place - if, heaven forbid, there's a crisis the next time.

"We've said, you know, 'Banks, you've gotta double the amount of capital that you have so that you can absorb losses when you have 'em, so taxpayers aren't bailing you out,'" he said. "If you do start going under, you've gotta have a plan, a living will, we call it, so that we don't have to come in and clean up after you."

He also passed reference to one possible sticking point in the looming budget debates: "That's why we made sure we had a tax system that was a little bit fairer by asking people to pay more at the top," Mr. Obama said. "That's what the Affordable Care Act - healthcare reform - is about." Some Republicans have insisted they won't support any CR that doesn't include a measure to de-fund "Obamacare."

Just over a month ago the president delivered to the nation his opening argument for a more progressive economic agenda, warning lawmakers not to become embroiled in yet another debt limit debate, negotiating dollar-for-dollar government spending.

The White House says he will sound that same familiar call Monday, cautioning against "more self-inflicted wounds from Washington."

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    Lindsey Boerma is senior video producer for CBSNews.com.

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