- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 17, 2009

Beginning with his speech last week to a joint session of Congress, President Obama has launched himself into a two-week period where the convergence of big-ticket issues is testing his ability to juggle crucial initiatives all cresting at the same time.

The high-profile speech on Sept. 9 began a push for health care reform that has included rallies across the country and a TV blitz of five Sunday morning talk shows this upcoming weekend. At the same time, the White House is trying to move along financial regulatory reform, and the president is in the midst of preparation for next week’s back-to-back summits with world leaders, where he will confront a wide range of foreign-policy issues.

The White House views this period as a kickoff to the fall, where the president is seeking to regain momentum after the natural slowdown of summer was compounded by adverse circumstances - raucous town-hall meetings and falling poll numbers - surrounding his health care reform plans.

But all three of these enormous spinning plates - the two primary legislative goals of health care and regulatory reform, and the global summits next week and all their inherent issues - are not only endlessly complicated, but are also all facing significant obstacles.

Critics said this week that the bottleneck of events is a product of what they see as the administration’s hubris in trying to tackle the economic crisis while also pushing ahead with its reforms on health care and other issues.

“It’s divided the attention and focus of Obama and the Democrats, but also of the public,” said Michael Lind, director of the economic-growth program at the New America Foundation, a Washington think tank.

“It was a strategic mistake of them to try to do all of these things at once, instead of doing them sequentially. What they should have done first is focus on the economic emergency,” Mr. Lind said. “If they succeeded, then they would have had all kinds of political capital they could use on these other reforms. If they fail to deal with the economic emergency, then they’re in trouble anyway.”

The White House declined to respond to the criticism, saying only that the president has for many months made the case that his reform efforts are part of the solution to the country’s economic problems because they lay a foundation for a more sustainable future.

“If we don’t invest now in renewable energy or a skilled work force or a more affordable health care system, this economy simply won’t grow at the pace it needs to in two or five or 10 years down the road,” Mr. Obama said in his most thorough economic speech at Georgetown University in April.

But while the president has continued to make this argument all year, his once high-flying initiatives have slowed down. Most observers expect some form of health care reform to pass this year, but the fight has inflicted heavy political damage on the White House that was not anticipated.

To reinvigorate the reform movement, Mr. Obama followed his speech to Congress last week with a large and raucous rally in Minnesota, a speech to the AFL-CIO on Tuesday, and will hold another health care rally Thursday with what is expected to be a large and enthusiastic crowd of college students at the University of Maryland at College Park.

In the middle of this push, the president traveled to New York on Monday to prod the financial community into accepting reforms of the way it does business in order to prevent another economic crisis. Mr. Obama pleaded with a recalcitrant Wall Street audience that they not “resist” regulatory reform.

And while much of the heavy lifting on regulatory reform and the upcoming Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh has been done by Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, Mr. Obama has still been required to use large blocks of his precious time to prepare for a week of thorny and complicated foreign-policy and global finance discussions at the United Nations’ annual General Assembly meeting, and then the G-20.

“I’m in the middle of some very important decisions,” Mr. Obama said during an interview Monday with Bloomberg News.

At the United Nations, he will confront a stagnant Mideast peace process, the failure of the U.S. and the European Union to pressure Russia and China into supporting new sanctions on Iran, and trade tensions with Beijing following his decision to impose a tariff on the importation of Chinese tires.

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