WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will a deliver rare address to a joint session of Congress next week to introduce a long-awaited plan for jobs and economic growth, but not before being forced to yield in a test of wills with House Speaker John Boehner over not what he would say, but when he would say it.
Obama agreed to schedule his address on Sept. 8 after Boehner balked at the president’s request for a Sept. 7 speech.
Obama’s address still gives him a grand stage to unveil his economic agenda, though it falls on the same evening as the opening game of the National Football League season. White House officials were working on the precise timing of the speech in hopes of avoiding a conflict.
The change will allow a planned Sept. 7 Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley, Calif., to proceed without Obama upstaging it.
Still, by seeking a rare joint session of Congress as his audience, Obama will get a nationally televised address that puts him face to face with Republican lawmakers who have bitterly opposed his agenda and who have vowed to vote down any new spending he might propose.
“It is our responsibility to find bipartisan solutions to help grow our economy, and if we are willing to put country before party, I am confident we can do just that,” Obama wrote Wednesday in a letter to Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday the dust-up dramatizes why “people are fed up” with Washington.
“It is such nonsense.This is what people hate about politics,” Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman said.
Carney said, “Our intention was merely for the president to address a joint session as soon as possible,” to outline his plan for revving up the economy and taking the unemployment problem on head-on.
“Our interest is in not having a political back and forth here at all,” Carney told MSNBC in an interview. He said the White House yielded when Boehner insisted the speech be next Thursday, instead of Wednesday.
“Americans are sick and tired of the partisan bickering” in the capital,” Carney said. He argued that Obama’s aim is to “focus on things we can do” to spur the economy.
The White House budget office on Thursday is expected to provide revised budget forecasts and the Labor Department on Friday will release new August unemployment numbers. The two sets of data will highlight Obama’s challenge: addressing short-term demands to increase jobs and shore up the economy while minding long-term budget deficits.
In seeking a joint session of Congress to deliver his plan, the president is turning the effort into a public relations campaign.
Emphasizing that strategy and illustrating the fine line between governing and political campaigning, Obama issued a plea through his presidential campaign late Wednesday calling for public support in holding Congress accountable.
In an email, Obama said he would deliver details of his jobs plan to Congress next week. “Whether they will do the job they were elected to do is ultimately up to them,” he wrote. “But both you and I can pressure them to do the right thing.”
The email asked supporters to provide their name and email addresses, a mobilizing tactic useful both to push for legislative action and to build a foundation for his re-election.
White House officials say not all details of the president’s address have been decided, though he is expected to lay out proposals to increase hiring with a blend of tax incentives for business and government spending for public works projects. At the same time, White House officials say, he will offer long-term deficit reductions to make up for any upfront spending.
The dispute over the timing of the speech created an inauspicious start to the jobs debate and introduced tensions before Congress even returns from its annual summer recess.
Usually, presidential requests to address Congress are routinely granted after consultations between the White House and lawmakers.
In this case, the White House notified Boehner’s office less than two hours before it released the letter requesting the session. A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said Boehner’s office raised no objections or concerns.
In his formal reply a few hours later, Boehner said the House would not return until late Sept. 7 and security and parliamentary issues might be an obstacle. The House and the Senate each would have to adopt a resolution to allow a joint session for the president.
Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said no one in Boehner’s office signed off on the date and accused the White House of ignoring established protocol of arriving at a mutually agreed date before making public announcements.
A key issue for many Republicans was the Sept. 7 Republican presidential debate in California.
In a message posted on the Twitter social network, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus wrote, “BarackObama request to give jobs speech the same night as GOP Presidential debate is further proof this WH is all politics all the time.”
Carney had said earlier that the timing chosen by the White House was a coincidence.
Negotiations between the White House and Boehner’s office proceeded through the late afternoon and into the evening Wednesday
At about 9:15 p.m., Carney issued a statement: “The president is focused on the urgent need to create jobs and grow our economy, so he welcomes the opportunity to address a Joint Session of Congress on Thursday, September 8th.”
Huntsman made his remarks on NBC’s “Today” show.
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