"President Obama has accomplished more in 30 days than any president in modern history," a senior White House official said this morning in a background briefing for TV reporters.
Pointing to legislation on children’s health insurance and the "Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act," and most especially the stimulus bill, the official compared President Obama favorably to Presidents Reagan, Clinton and Bush, pointing out that the previous presidents’ major economic bills were all months away from becoming enacted into law at this point in their presidencies.
"He has a set of wins under his belt" as he comes to address a joint session of Congress this evening, the senior White House official said, contrasting the president with Bill Clinton, who at this point in his presidency had been dealing with the gays in the military controversy, with passage of Family Medical Leave as a legislative win.
Obama, conversely, can point to a $787 billion bill that made major changes in energy, education and tax policies, the official said, describing the bill as a "major paydown" on what candidate Obama ran on.
The provisions in the bill promoting energy independence, the official said, constitute "the largest energy independence investment policy ever in the U.S.," and maybe even in the world.
Recent polls by ABC News/Washington Post, CBS News/New York Times, and others showing the president with high approval ratings is "earned," the official said. "This isn’t just the afterglow of the inauguration."
The official had beckoned us to his/her office to give us some context and preview tonight’s address.
The President, the official said, "will have an integrated approach" to the economic solutions he has proposed, discussing how all of the proverbial legs of the stool — financial stabilization, stimulus, regulatory reform, credit markets — are necessary for a recovery.
The message and tone: "We will get through this economic hardship," the official said. "Here are the actions necessary to take to do so."
Previously when "Americans have faced challenges we have pulled together and done the tough things necessary," the official said. "America has gotten through it together."
He will "acknowledge the difficulty of the moment, but he says optimistically that we can get through it" by honoring the values of "responsibility, accountability and a set of common interests."
"Every time the U.S. has measured up," the official said. But "it’s time to own up. You can’t just kick the can down the road for another administration to deal with."
Despite a jittery Wall Street, the official said the president will not specifically address the banking industry, or those who run the financial system. Rather, he will "paint a picture of stability in the financial system and what it means to all of us."
There will be "big stuff" in the speech on four main topics: education, health care, energy independence and the fiscal situation, all addressed with the theme of responsibility.
The format for these big issues will largely be "here’s what we’ve accomplished; here’s what we need to do to press to the goal line."
For instance, on health care, the president will discuss the State Children’s Health Insurance Program which he recently signed into law giving four million additional children health insurance. He will discuss the measures in the stimulus bill that add billions to assist the unemployed with health insurance, and the investments in health care technology being made that will ultimately achieve cost savings. And then the president will discuss additional measures he feels the U.S. needs to take on the issue.
The president will not discuss specific hard choices he supports, the official said, such as specific cuts in Social Security necessary to ensure future solvency of the program. This speech wouldn’t be the right time for that.
Afghanistan and other foreign policy issues will be mentioned — especially what the U.S. owes to its troops — but mostly the president will address those issues in a speech on Iraq to be given in the next few days. On national service, the president will call for congressional action on a bill promoting national service offered by Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
"It’s not just a bee hive of activity," the official said. "We’re moving out on all fronts because this point in time requires energy, purpose and clarity."