Washington Knocked off balance by the bonuses brouhaha, President Barack Obama is relying on direct appeals to the public to refocus attention on his ambitious agenda and drive the debate.
The president has shouldered responsibility for the mess, and in his radio and Web address Saturday, sought to put the financial finger-pointing behind in favor of his policy pillars — deficit cutting, overhauling health care and energy, improving education.
He will use a flurry of events to make his case, including a network television interview airing today and a prime-time news conference Tuesday. The administration also is expected, as early as Monday, to roll out its plan to rid banks of their toxic assets and speed the flow of loans.
Being heard above the din may prove difficult. Lawmakers are wrangling over taxing people who got big bonuses and worrying the president’s budget could generate $9.3 trillion in red ink over the next decade.
“I realize there are those who say these plans are too ambitious to enact,” Obama said in his weekend address. “To that I say that the challenges we face are too large to ignore. I didn’t come here to pass on our problems to the next president or the next generation — I came here to solve them.”
Over the past week, Obama sought to spread his message unfiltered to people, tapping his massive e-mail list to promote his agenda one on one and speaking to supporters at town hall meetings in California. But dominating all else was the disclosure that American International Group Inc. had paid out $165 million in bonuses to employees, including to traders in the financial unit that nearly collapsed the insurer.
The New York Times reported in today’s editions that the regulatory proposal would include recommendations for increased oversight of executive pay at all banks, Wall Street firms and possibly other companies. The administration was still debating details of the plan including how broadly it should be applied and how far it should go beyond simple reporting requirements, the Times said, quoting unnamed officials.
Also this week, the president scrambled to say he was sorry for an offhand remark on NBC’s “Tonight Show” in which he compared his inept bowling with “the Special Olympics or something.” By Friday evening, the White House was fending off the new dismal deficit estimates from congressional auditors.
“Absolutely it was a bad week for the president,” said Thomas Mann, a Brookings Institution congressional scholar. “But, he’s not someone to shy away from an ambitious agenda. He’s aiming very high and he’s not going to trim his ambitions in response to this.”