President Barack Obama will appear before Congress and the nation on Wednesday night to reset his agenda and assure his demoralised party that he has not given up on key priorities, and to try to convince a sceptical public that he can still change Washington.
The White House provided new details late Tuesday about a proposed three-year spending freeze aimed at controlling the deficit while protecting key programs that Democrats in Congress view as sacrosanct, including education. Obama will announce what administration officials described as the largest single-year request for federal funding for elementary and secondary schools, making education one of the few areas to grow in an otherwise austere budget.
The president will call for a 6.2 per cent increase in education spending over last year, including up to $4 billion as part of an effort to revamp the George W. Bush-era programs that expanded testing to measure student progress, aides to the president said. Senior aides said Obama will link the increase in education funding to his calls for school reform. They said his proposals also fit in a broader effort by the White House to focus scarce resources on the nation’s long-term economic health.
After the speech, Obama plans to take his newly energised populist message on the road, pledging to voters in 2010 battleground states that he will fight for them. On Thursday, he will travel to Florida, where Democrats are defending numerous House districts and trying to win Senate and gubernatorial races. On Tuesday, he will visit New Hampshire, where both of the state’s House seats and a Senate seat are in play.
Democrats and Obama have yet to agree on how to tackle the year ahead, and a big part of the president’s challenge on Wednesday will be to begin to clear away the doubt and despair that have settled over his party after its Senate loss in Massachusetts last week.
Some Democrats are determined to salvage the major bills that consumed 2009, including health-care reform, an overhaul of financial regulations and clean-energy incentives aimed at reducing climate change. But others are ready to shelve anything big and controversial in exchange for smaller, more popular initiatives.
Although Senate Democratic leaders released a blueprint for a new jobs bill on Tuesday, lawmakers bickered over what to include in the package. The Senate’s rejection Tuesday of a bipartisan deficit commission also highlighted deep divisions within the party over how aggressively to tackle a federal budget crisis that will inevitably require tax increases and spending cuts.
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