Obama yields to Boehner on speech timing

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Barack Obama agreed to delay presenting his new economic plan in a joint session of Congress by a day after John Boehner, the Republican speaker, rejected the planned timing, citing parliamentary and logistical impediments.

The request by Mr Obama to address Congress and the nation, at 8pm US eastern time on September 7 coincided with a long planned debate between Republican presidential candidates, to be held in California – though Mr Boehner offered other reasons why the address could not be held at that time.

Administration officials said the request to address Congress had been discussed with Mr Boehner before it was announced and no objections had been raised.

Mr Boehner’s spokesman denied that his office had signed off on the date.

“Unfortunately we weren’t even asked if that date worked for the House. Shortly before it arrived this morning, we were simply informed that a letter was coming,” said Brendan Buck. “It’s unfortunate the White House ignored decades, if not centuries, of the protocol of working out a mutually agreeable date and time before making any public announcement.”

While political insiders on both sides of the aisle have quietly said it was critical that the Democrats and Republicans begin to appear capable of working together, the first post-recess interaction between the groups promised more bitter political spats.

Both Mr Obama and the Republican-led House of Representatives saw a marked drop in their approval ratings after the debt ceiling fiasco and analysts said voters across the board were increasingly disgusted by Washington’s dysfunction.

In a letter to the president, Mr Boehner pointed to the fact that Congress would be reconvening for the first time since its summer break on Wednesday and a plan to hold votes at 6:30pm that evening might interfere with a three-hour security sweep of the congressional chamber.

“It is my recommendation that your address be held on the following evening, when we can ensure there will be no parliamentary or logistical impediments that might detract from your remarks,” he said.

It is rare for any president to call for a joint session of Congress and the request itself was a symbolic gesture on behalf of the White House, which faces record low poll numbers for Mr Obama’s handling of the economy.

The president said in a letter early on Wednesday that he would release a plan which could immediately begin to “rebuild” the economy and get Americans back to work.

If it had gone ahead as planned, the address would have come a day after one of Mr Obama’s chief rivals for the White House in 2012, Mitt Romney, the Massachusetts governor, is due to outline his own plan for the economy.

The Republican debate is itself highly anticipated because it marks the national debut of Rick Perry, the Republican governor of Texas, who is leading the field of Republican candidates for president.

The Obama administration has offered few clues about how broad the scope of the president’s plan will be, or the amount of government spending he will request to help facilitate job growth. Some Democrats are pushing Mr Obama to offer bold measures that would require significant government investment, even if he could not get his proposals passed in Congress, in order to present a clear alternative to Republicans’ calls for cuts in government spending.

Mr Obama’s plan is expected to include a request to extend a payroll tax cut for middle class Americans, major investments in infrastructure and a push to pass stalled trade deals.

The president said in an interview this week that the government could take steps that would make a “big difference” in job creation.

“There is no doubt that we can take steps that would mean the economy was growing a per cent or a per cent and a half faster. That could mean half a million to a million additional jobs,” Mr Obama told Tom Joyner, the radio host.

Neera Tanden, chief operating officer of the Center for American Progress, a left leaning think-tank said: “By asking for a joint address to Congress, the president seems to be signalling that our economic growth challenges are great and that he will have the ideas and proposals to meet them.

“It is also creates an onus on Republicans to have serious ideas to create jobs, something they have not offered so far.”

In his letter to Mr Boehner, the president said his plan would lay out “a series of bipartisan proposals that the Congress can take immediately to continue to rebuild the American economy ... while still reducing our deficit and getting our fiscal house in order.”

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