President Obama greets war veterans at the national convention of the American… (Larry Downing, Reuters )
Reporting from Washington — President Obama paid tribute to war veterans with a speech that began on another topic altogether, the sad state of the American economy.
In that way, Obama framed his remarks Tuesday in an economic context, as he has many other public utterances in recent days, including personnel changes and the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"Across the nation, we're still digging out from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression," Obama told the national convention of the American Legion in Minneapolis. But "in hard times, Americans don't quit. … And in times like these, all Americans can draw strength from your example."
Barring disaster or major news, administration officials say, Obama's message for the foreseeable future will be about jobs and the economy.
Congressional Republicans are responding with their own ideas for getting the economy on track, while the president comes under intensifying pressure from his political base to advocate an ambitious plan that could put a real dent in the unemployment rate.
Administration officials are closing in on the details of that proposal, which the president is expected to unveil next week.
Obama's priorities include putting people to work rebuilding roads, bridges and schools, as well as finding ways to boost the housing market.
Before addressing the veterans, Obama spoke on the Tom Joyner radio program and mentioned the usefulness of a payroll tax cut, which he says would put "$1,000 in the pockets of the average family."
"There is no doubt that we can take steps that would mean the economy was growing a percent or a percentage and a half faster," Obama told Joyner. "That could mean half a million to a million additional jobs. That gets the economy moving; it makes businesses more confident that they're going to have customers. And it starts putting people back to work."
The White House prefers an approach that stands a chance of winning bipartisan support, but the liberal base of the president's party wants more.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in an interview that Obama needed to stand up for a jobs plan that was adequate for the moment. Unemployment is 9.1%, and the jobs report coming out Friday is expected to show that the U.S. didn't create enough jobs in August to keep up with population growth.
"Who knows what's politically achievable until we try?" Trumka said. "The president should articulate a solution of the size and scale necessary to solve the problem. We have a jobs crisis. …If you do only what you think the other side and the 'tea party' will agree to, then they control the agenda."
A coalition of labor groups warned the president not to try to appease Republicans with his plan.
"A problem this serious needs a plan to match it in scope," they wrote in a letter Tuesday. "Tax cuts and incentives for corporations have repeatedly failed to put Americans back to work. It is time to move beyond these half measures designed to appeal to a narrow ideological minority who have repeatedly shown their unwillingness to negotiate and their disinterest in real solutions."