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Obama attempts to shift focus back to economy

Speeches seek to frame debate; budget deadlines may spark rancor

If Obama’s new focus on the economy sounds familiar, that is because he has done it several times since the first year of his presidency.

Evan Vucci/Associated Press

If Obama’s new focus on the economy sounds familiar, that is because he has done it several times since the first year of his presidency.

WASHINGTON — Drawing renewed attention to the economy, President Obama will return this week to an Illinois college where he once spelled out a vision for a strengthened middle class as a freshman US senator, long before a deep recession would test his presidency.

The address Wednesday at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., will be the first in a series of economic speeches that White House aides say Obama intends to deliver over the next several weeks ahead of key budget deadlines in the fall. A new fiscal year begins in October, and the government will soon hit its borrowing limit.

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The speech will be given just a week before Congress is scheduled to leave for its monthlong August recess and is designed to build public pressure on lawmakers in hopes of averting the showdowns over taxes and spending that have characterized past budget debates.

The president also will talk about the economy in Warrensburg, Mo., on Wednesday, then fly to Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday to make his pitch to Floridians.

If Obama’s new focus on the economy sounds familiar, that is because he has done it several times since the first year of his presidency.

Some came with catchy slogans, including 2011’s ‘‘Winning the Future’’ and the ‘‘We Can’t Wait’’ initiatives that followed later that year. Just a few months ago, Obama was headlining the ‘‘Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour.’’

So far there is no slogan attached to the White House’s latest initiative. The president’s advisers are billing his remarks in Illinois as a major address on the economy, though no initiatives are expected to be announced.

Obama’s policies ‘are responsible for this new normal of weak economic growth and high unemployment.’

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However, aides say there will be some fresh policy proposals in a series of follow-up speeches planned through September, most of which will be narrowly targeted on such issues as housing, retirement security, and expanding access to education.

Congressional Republicans, who continue to be a roadblock for many of the president’s economic proposals, dismissed the White House’s new public relations push as a retread of old ideas.

‘‘We’ve seen this song and dance before,’’ said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican. ‘‘Whether it’s his health care law, his job-destroying energy policies, or the mountain of regulations piling up, it’s the president’s own policies that are responsible for this new normal of weak economic growth and high unemployment.’’

In the face of inaction in Congress, Obama on Monday urged his most ardent supporters to mount a summertime show of support. He spoke at a Washington meeting of Organizing for Action, a group formed after his 2012 reelection campaign with the goal of backing his policy agenda.

The Democratic Party’s other most prominent figures, Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California, joined him in addressing supporters.

Organizing for Action, which is run by former White House and campaign aides, has tried to build public pressure on lawmakers to enact Obama’s second-term agenda. The group raised more than $8 million between April and June.

Democrats are trying to build momentum on several issues, including: an immigration overhaul, which cleared the Senate but faces an uncertain future in the House; expanded gun background checks, which are stalled in Congress; and measures to curb climate change, which the president outlined last month.

Obama also is working to implement complex elements of his health care law despite continued resistance from Republicans and headaches over delays and glitches.

The timing of Obama’s latest economic push underscores the degree to which jobs and growth have been overshadowed in Washington since the president began his second term.

That has been driven in part by the White House, which has invested significant time on other areas of the president’s agenda, including the failed effort to enact stricter gun laws and the push for immigration reform.

A series of foreign policy crises, including the Syrian civil war and Egyptian coup, have also competed for the White House’s attention.

All the while, the economy has slowly but steadily improved. The housing market is coming back, the stock market continues to rise, and consumer confidence is near its highest levels of Obama’s presidency. Nationwide unemployment is also falling, though at 7.6 percent, it still remains high.

But a new round of fiscal deadlines threatens to upend that progress, adding urgency to the White House’s desire to get the economy back on Washington’s radar while at the same time trying to get the public to side with the president’s economic vision.

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