WASHINGTON - After barely a month in office, President Barack Obama will have some explaining to do tonight.
In his first nationally televised speech to Congress, Obama must explain what he has already done and what he expects to do to address what he has repeatedly called one of the worst economic crises in decades, said members of Congress and political analysts yesterday.
Obama's address, at 9 p.m., comes during a week crowded with events that will impact the economy and taxpayers: a presidential "fiscal responsibility summit" on Monday; House consideration of a $410-billion omnibus bill to pay for government for the rest of the fiscal year; and an outline of Obama's budget for next fiscal year that will be released on Thursday.
While not formally a State of the Union address, the speech will have all the trappings of one, including a Republican response by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, already a critic of the $787-billion stimulus plan.
Here are three things Obama must accomplish tonight.
PROVIDE A FRAMEWORK
Obama is expected to offer up the first outlines of his next budget, in which he tightens the nation's belt after insisting for weeks that taxpayers open their wallets for a trillion-dollar spending spree.
There are a lot of moving parts to the way he is addressing the economy, and he has to explain, in clear language to Congress and the nation, just how they fit together and work.
"It's been offered up in bits and pieces," said Meena Bose, a presidential scholar at Hofstra University. "You don't have a clear sense of what the larger vision is."
Obama must talk about how the billions spent on bailing out Wall Street, mortgage foreclosures, automakers and a stimulus bill help the economy while at the same time call for an austerity budget that cuts the deficit in half by 2012.
"All this needs to be tied into a larger framework of what the administration is doing," Bose said.
Obama is expected to present what one adviser called "a narrative to tell about how we get to a better day."
ADVANCE HIS AGENDA
The president's annual address to Congress usually lays out in some detail what he intends to pursue in the year ahead, and Obama must take this opportunity to do that.
"It's getting to be time he starts putting forward some of the things he has talked about on the campaign trail, like health care, education," said Matthew Lebo, a political-science professor at Stony Brook University.
At the economic summit yesterday, top Obama aides described escalating health care costs as the most important driver of federal spending.
Obama is expected to talk tonight about the importance of quickly and boldly reforming health care to insure the 47 million uninsured while using technology to lower costs.
MAINTAIN HIS SUPPORT
Polls show Obama still has a high level of support among the American people, though it is slipping just slightly.
While Obama has to explain the gravity of economic woes, he must also offer some hope to rally the American people and his Democratic allies in Congress behind him, while reaching out to the opposition.
"A big part, too, is to keep independents and Republicans on his side as much as he can," Lebo said, adding he must take advantage of "any chance he has to grab the spotlight and give some optimism."