Obama to go big with jobs agenda

When it comes to President Obama’s new economic plan, to be unveiled next week, the three main questions are pretty straightforward: (1) what’s in it; (2) how much good will it do; and (3) what will Congress do to it.

But I’ve been curious about one other thing: where’s he going to deliver it?

The president has some options here. He could go with another White House address, maybe from the Oval Office. He could speak at a university or maybe a small business that benefited from the Recovery Act. I thought he might go with a town-hall meeting in a key swing state.

The location of the speech would send a signal about what to expect from the speech, and the significance the White House places in the speech. This announcement, then, tells us quite a bit.

President Obama has asked for a joint session of Congress on Sept. 7 to present his plan for jobs.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, Obama said it is his intention to “lay out a series of bipartisan proposals that the Congress can take immediately to continue to rebuild the American economy.”

The letter to congressional leaders read as follows:

“Our Nation faces unprecedented economic challenges, and millions of hardworking Americans continue to look for jobs. As I have traveled across our country this summer and spoken with our fellow Americans, I have heard a consistent message: Washington needs to put aside politics and start making decisions based on what is best for our country and not what is best for each of our parties in order to grow the economy and create jobs. We must answer this call.

“Therefore, I respectfully request the opportunity to address a Joint Session of Congress on September 7, 2011, at 8:00 p.m. It is my intention to lay out a series of bipartisan proposals that the Congress can take immediately to continue to rebuild the American economy by strengthening small businesses, helping Americans get back to work, and putting more money in the paychecks of the Middle Class and working Americans, while still reducing our deficit and getting our fiscal house in order. 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. Thank you for your consideration.”

As settings go, this is in the swing-for-the-fences category. Presidential speeches to joint sessions of Congress are not for routine issues. And if Obama intended to aim low with his plan, throwing out a few tax credits and warmed-over ideas, he would not pick this venue*.

Put another way, major addresses before a joint session is no place for a timid economic plan. With that in mind, the president appears ready to go big, and I’m glad.

In the larger political context, it’s probably worth noting that a Republican presidential debate is scheduled for the same evening. I rather doubt the White House cared, but it should offer an interesting contrast.

* fixed