President Obama’s aides dislike the word “pivot” for its implication that he focuses on one priority at a time — but Mr. Obama’s trip to Austin, Texas, on Thursday is indisputably an effort to return attention to the economy after a spring overshadowed by gun control and other issues.
Mr. Obama’s “Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour” in the Texas capital will be the first in a series of trips planned by the White House over the next few months to draw attention to languishing initiatives that the president proposed in his State of the Union address in February, such as raising the minimum wage and providing preschool classes for every child in America.
Much of Mr. Obama’s economic plans have been overshadowed at the start of his second term by the battle over gun control, which culminated in a staggering loss for the administration in the Senate last month, and by immigration reform, which lawmakers are still debating.
The White House also has waged a budget fight with congressional Republicans over the sequester budget cuts — across-the-board trims that Mr. Obama opposed. Partly because of that battle, the president was nine weeks late submitting his fiscal 2014 budget to Congress.
“A president can and must do more than one thing at a time,” said Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, a left-leaning think tank in Washington. “Given the focus on other pressing matters in recent months, it is appropriate for the president to return now to the most important issue in American politics now — creating growth, opportunity and jobs for everyday Americans.”
A White House aide who spoke on background said the Texas event is designed “to make sure that both Congress and the American people understand that this is a top priority of his, and that these are common-sense ideas.”
The White House said Thursday that Mr. Obama will issue two executive orders related to the trip. He will order that newly released government data be made freely available in “open, machine-readable formats” to enable entrepreneurs to generate new products and services. The administration said this action will make “troves” of previously inaccessible data available, “while appropriately safeguarding privacy, confidentiality, and security.”
The president also will issue an order launching competitions for three new Manufacturing Innovation Institutes — partnerships among business, colleges and government to develop manufacturing technologies. Congress would need to appropriate $1 billion for 15 of these institutes across the country.
Mr. Obama will visit a high school and a technology company, and promote proposals to boost jobs and training. His advisers hope this economic revival tour will put pressure on lawmakers to take action on the president’s proposals.
“Out in the country, there are positive things happening, and that only reinforces the need for Washington to do some very simple things to help facilitate economic growth and job creation, to help enhance the prospects of the middle class rising and thriving,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
The timing of the president’s event also could serve to redirect some of the media’s attention from the congressional hearing on Benghazi, which dominated the news cycle Wednesday and in the days leading up to it.
Republicans say the economy is improving slowly in spite of the president’s policies, not because of them. The unemployment rate dipped to 7.5 percent in April, its lowest level since Mr. Obama became president.
The office of House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, criticized the president’s economic tour in light of “his administration’s history of blocking American energy production and destroying jobs.”
Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said the Obama administration can help create jobs by cutting taxes and spending, reducing regulations, passing tort reform, and “getting out of the way and allowing employers to risk their capital and create jobs.”
The president wants Congress to spend $50 billion on roads, bridges and other infrastructure, and to create manufacturing “hubs” linked to colleges and universities across the country. The White House said the preschool proposal would be funded by a 94-cents-per-pack tax on cigarettes, although there has been virtually no effort by the administration to move forward with that plan since the president introduced it in his budget a month ago.