(CBS) By this fall, Washington could once again find itself embroiled in a debt limit debate, with lawmakers negotiating dollar-for-dollar over government spending. This week, before those negotiations start, President Obama will deliver to the nation his opening argument for a more progressive economic agenda.
Rather than focus on the looming fights with Congress, Mr. Obama this week will in three speeches lay out a broad economic vision that focuses on building up the middle class.
"I'm going to talk about where we need to go from here, how we need to put behind us the distractions and the phony debates and nonsense that somehow passes for politics these days and get back to basics," Mr. Obama told supporters at a Washington event Monday night. "It's going to be the kickoff to what is essentially several months of us trying to get Washington and the press to re-focus on the economy... but also for us to start exploring some big and bold ideas."
With 1,200 days left in office, the president said he planned to use "every waking minute of every one of those days, thinking about, and then acting upon, any good ideas out there that are going to help ordinary Americans succeed."
The president's economic tour starts Wednesday at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. -- a small liberal arts college where Mr. Obama in 2005 gave his first major economic speech as a senator. Later on Wednesday, the president will speak at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Mo. On Thursday, he travels to Florida to deliver remarks at the Jacksonville Port Authority.
The president's speeches come amid mixed economic reports. Earlier this month, the White House reported that thanks to a slowly improving economy, the significant "sequestration" budget cuts and new tax revenue, the 2013 deficit will actually be $214 billion lower than previously projected. At the same time, economists are predicting that the economy may only grow by a weak rate of 2 percent this year. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has called the sequester a drag on the economy.
White House spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday characterized the economy this way: "Strong, but not strong enough; growing, but not growing fast enough; creating jobs, but not creating enough jobs."
The president on Wednesday, Carney said, will say "that we have to keep our eye on the ball here -- what the North Star is when it comes to moving our economy forward. And it's built around the basic notion that a thriving middle class that feels secure and is expanding has always been the driving force behind the American economy at its best. And that was the case in the last century. That condition began to erode over the course of several decades."
The argument revives the case Mr. Obama made during his re-election campaign for government investment in an economy that serves more than the "top 1 percent." Republicans, however, insist that they're focused not only on growing the economy and jobs but also responsible government spending.
"This is all about a big setup that's coming in this speech," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Tuesday. "The president wants to raise taxes so he can do more stimulus spending and the fact is, it's his sequester and if we're going to get rid of his sequester, we're going to have to look for smarter spending cuts in order to do that."
Boehner said that if the president were serious about the economy, he would work more closely with Congress rather than giving more campaign-style speeches. A major part of Boehner's agenda, however, is delaying -- if not repealing all together -- the Affordable Care Act, illustrating how fundamentally different Mr. Obama's vision for building up the future is from the Republican vision.
Carney stressed Tuesday that Mr. Obama this week isn't trying to find any quick answers, but start a "long-term project."
"It's not enough just to see the stock market bounce back," he said. "We need to make the right policy choices so that the middle class feels like they're getting their interests addressed here in Washington, as opposed to ignored through policies that only do harm to the middle class."