Over lunch at the White House today ("compressed" avocado, "crisped" Halibut, and a pretty awesome warm gingerbread with toffee sauce), there was a double-barreled message: The president wants to build on the bipartisan spirit post-Tucson, but ready to do battle too.
Front number one is the economy. In a speech described as “thematic, not programmatic,” the president will say how we can “Win the Future” with a combination of targeted investments (education, research and infrastructure) and “tightening our belts” (extending last year’s proposed budget freeze another two years). Officials acknowledge that this long-term strategy won’t soothe Americans looking for work now, even as they concede that the lame duck tax cuts are the last, best hope for new stimulus over the next year or two. What the president will lay out tonight is a long-term vision, his take on what it will take for America to retain its economic power for “20, 30, 40 years.” No more stimulus now. And while “everything must be on the table,” to reduce our long term deficits and debt, the White House won’t be proposing any new cuts in Medicare or Social Security.
But the White House will press Republicans to get specific if they want cuts beyond his budget freeze. It’s clear they believe that could create fissures in the new House majority between the leadership and the Tea Party true believers. What they’re less sure of is how the fight will play out: “Principled compromises” on issues like raising the debt ceiling or Congressional chaos that leads to another 1995 style shutdown? Too early to tell.
Despite calls from Mike Bloomberg and national police organizations, don’t expect the president to propose a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips or other gun control measures tonight. That will come in another speech at another time. But the president won’t ignore immigration. Expect him to call again for Congress to pass the “Dream Act.” There won’t be much foreign policy either. Maybe a paragraph or two on Afghanistan but not much more.
Looking ahead to the 2012 campaign, White House officials think they’ll be running in a tougher environment than either Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton had to face. Even if the economy is improving, it won’t be going gangbusters like in ’84 or ’96. What they hope is that it will be good enough, and that tonight’s speech – which is effectively the kick-off of Obama’s reelection campaign – will put them in a position to take credit.