Senior White House Correspondent
In his first speech to a joint session of Congress, President Obama is planning to strike a more optimistic tone than he has in recent days by laying out a "game plan" to beat the financial crisis, according to a senior White House official.
The senior official said there will only be a light touch on foreign policy, with mentions of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as other threats around the world. Instead the speech will be dominated by four big issues that all relate to the President's broader economic message: financial stability and responsibility, education, energy independence and health care reform.
The senior official said that unlike the more formal State of the Union speeches usually delivered later in a presidency, Obama will not get into great detail on questions like whether large banks such as Citigroup will be nationalized.
"The American people want to know there's a game plan, not every move on the field," said the senior official. "We have a plan for winning."
The senior official argued that Obama has already been mixing some of his sober talk about the crisis with optimism about the future. Nevertheless, the official acknowledged the White House has heard the criticism from former President Bill Clinton and others about not being too sour and will make a point of being hopeful about the future.
"He clearly says, 'We will get through this, and here are the policies to get through this,'" the senior official said of the speech.
The official added the President will make clear that "at every point in history, America has come out stronger" after a crisis by relying on certain values like responsibility. Obama will also continue to say that he wants to work with Republicans to tackle these problems, according to the official.
While aides say Obama himself puts a heavy imprint on his own speeches, the address is being put together by Jon Favreau, the young chief White House speechwriter who was in charge of the Inaugural Address. Senior officials say recent drafts of the speech have been timed out at between 50 minutes and one hour, depending on how many interruptions there are for applause.
Obama is also planning to build on Monday's fiscal responsibility summit to make the case that now is the time to try and tackle a whole series of big challenges at once, from financial regulatory reform to reshaping Social Security and the health care system. In the words of the senior official, "you never let a serious crisis go to waste" because it affords an opportunity to try and accomplish big things.
"It's time to own up rather than kick the can," said the senior official. "The way to deal with these short-term problems is to jump in to the long-term" problems.
Despite all of the challenges ahead, the senior official said top aides at the White House believe Obama is delivering this speech in a stronger position than any of his recent predecessors because he has a "different set of wins under his belt" this early in his presidency.
The official noted that when then-President Bill Clinton delivered his first speech to a joint session of Congress he had only passed the Family and Medical Leave Act and was struggling political because of the gays in the military flap. Then-President Ronald Reagan, the official recalled, did not get his economic agenda passed until the summer of 1981.
In contrast, Obama has already signed into law the sweeping economic plan, an expansion of childrens' health insurance coverage and pay equity legislation.
The senior official boasted that Obama has "gotten more done in 30 days ... than any modern president."
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