Obama bypasses Congress with public economic pitch

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“The first and central is how important is solving whatever problem is being defined,” he said. “The second one is does the defined benefit solve the problem.”

He argues that even though Obama in 2010 won the health care fight in a partisan showdown, the public didn’t judge health care to be as important as dealing with the economy. As a result, Republicans won control of the House in elections that year.

The White House strategy now in part recognizes that the economy remains the No. 1 public concern even as the president engages Congress on issues such as immigration and gun violence.

It was finally on Friday, his last road trip of the week, when Obama brought his message back to guns. But even then, like in his State of the Union speech, he connected it to his main economic themes. Speaking not far from his Hyde Park home on Chicago’s South Side, Obama linked the near-daily violence to communities where there is little economic hope.

At the White House, Pfeiffer argues that it would be pointless to present Congress with legislation on preschools and minimum wage increases now when the president is just raising the profile of the two issues and when he’s already working with Congress on other matters.

“There’s a lot of traffic in the legislative process right now,” he said. “If we were to send a bill up on some of these things tomorrow, you guys would all write that the president has overloaded the system.”

In pushing his agenda, Obama is wielding extra muscle that he didn’t employ before, relying on his reconfigured re-election campaign operation. The organization has reappeared as a nonprofit group ready to engage in legislative fights and grass-roots mobilization to supplement the White House.

The group, Organizing for Action, planned a tele-town hall Saturday hosted by Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago mayor who was Obama’s White House chief of staff. The event was intended to press the same themes Obama has pushed for the past four days.

Another expected participant was Austan Goolsbee, former chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.

The group’s board of directors includes former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and top campaign officials such as Stephanie Cutter and Julianna Smoot. Obama senior campaign adviser David Axelrod will serve as a consultant.

All retain strong ties to the White House; Axelrod and Emanuel were in the West Wing last week.

Griffin, the former Clinton aide, said such an organization would introduce a brand new element to White House outreach.

He recalled Clinton’s failed effort on health care and his attempt to go over the head of Congress in 1993.

“We tried to build an outside game but we were relying on external organizations to do what President Obama’s team wants to do on its own,” he said. “The question is, is he going to use this organization to really mobilize folks toward some specific, concrete objective. That to me is a whole new dimension to presidential congressional relations.”

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