Immigration, guns and national security are dominating the discussion on Capitol Hill, but Americans by and large are still focused on their bottom line. So President Barack Obama is launching a series of quick jaunts around the country to remind Americans he's still got jobs and the economy on his mind.
Obama will kick off the effort Thursday with a trip to Austin, Texas, the White House said. While in Texas, the president will visit a technical high school and meet with entrepreneurs. He'll also drop in on a tech company and talk with blue-collar workers.
The trips come as Obama, less than four months into his second term, is facing increasing skepticism from political allies and foes alike that he still has the clout to get big things done before the 2014 midterm elections creep up and his ability to set the agenda diminishes. Those concerns have been compounded by a failed push on gun control and a similarly unsuccessful effort to avert automatic spending cuts that took effect in March. Obama traveled repeatedly outside Washington to rally Americans to urge Congress to act on both fronts, but with questionable results.
Progress on the economy provides one opportunity to promote something positive - especially after a solid jobs report on Friday kicked the unemployment rate down a notch to 7.5 percent, a four-year low that offered hope that the U.S. economy is healthier than many had feared. Still, Republicans have criticized Obama over the past four years for announcing several times that he was pivoting back to an issue they say should have taken top billing all along.
"The economy is still Americans' top concern because the president's policies keep making it harder to create jobs," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, pointing to energy, taxes and Obama's health care law. "Unfortunately, I doubt we'll hear much about any of those things during this road show."
Obama wants to ensure that his economic proposals don't get lost in the shuffle in the coming weeks as Congress goes to work on an immigration overhaul and the confirmation process for Obama's second-term Cabinet nominees.
"Even though some in Congress are determined to create more self-inflicted economic wounds, there are things Washington could be doing right now to help American businesses, schools and workers," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Typically, when Obama touches down for the day in an American town, he delivers a speech and shakes a few hands before returning to Washington. But these one-day trips will see Obama make multiple stops at locations that can serve to highlight elements of his economic proposals, and will take place every few weeks starting Thursday with Austin.
Among the policies Obama plans to push in Austin and elsewhere are proposals, announced in February in his State of the Union address, to dramatically expand pre-kindergarten programs and raise the minimum wage to $9 per hour. Both of those face resistance from some lawmakers who say they are too expensive and could put a drag on the economy.