President Barack Obama addresses the U.S. Congress and the nation in a few hours, and faces huge expectations regarding the U.S. economic crisis. Democratic and Republican lawmakers made remarks ahead of the president's speech to a joint session of Congress.
President Obama is expected to urge Americans to pull together to confront challenges, saying that while the U.S. economy may be weakened and confidence shaken, the country will recover.
Although not a formal State of the Union Address, the first of which he will deliver next year, President Obama's speech will contain most of the elements of one - focusing on the one issue of most concern to Americans - the economy.
He is expected to balance being honest with the American people and Congress about the challenges ahead, and trying to use the force of his personality, amid continuing high public approval of his performance, to reassure the nation.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke with reporters a few hours before the president arrived at the Capitol. "We think it will be a serious speech, but one full of hope and optimism," she said.
President Obama is expected to offer more details about additional steps planned to bring stability to financial markets, get banks to expand lending, and try to slow the loss of jobs across the country.
Lawmakers approved the $787 billion stimulus measure to try to stop the bleeding in the economy and hundreds of billions more last year to help financial institutions, hope the president's speech can deliver a burst of confidence.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid provided a hint of another aspect of the president's speech, a renewed call for Democrats and Republicans to work together. "Barack Obama is a person who reaches out to all. He will continue to do that tonight," he said.
But lawmakers are also apprehensive, knowing that hundreds of billions of additional dollars could be needed as the Obama administration grapples with multiple issues, ranging from bank stability to a possible additional stimulus measure.
The Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that while everyone wants President Obama to succeed, he should not expect a debate-free environment on questions of federal spending. "We're not here to attack the president; we're here to talk about spending. And we think we are off on the wrong foot with the rate of spending that we are engaged in by running up the bills and sending them to our grandchildren," he said.
McConnell's remarks reflect the general tone of Republican attacks against what they call "irresponsible spending".
This week, House Republicans urged President Obama and majority Democrats to agree to freeze federal spending while efforts are underway to repair the economy.
In response, Democrats say the president has no other option than to do everything he can to halt an economic slide that began under former President George W. Bush.
Jim McDermott is a Washington state Democrat:"The economic disaster that President Obama is facing and will talk about to the American people today and tonight is really there waiting on the desk when he got to the Oval Office."
On another issue of concern to lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle, President Obama has vowed to cut in half the $1.3-trillion U.S. government deficit by the end of his first term.
But lawmakers see a difficult road ahead in trying to accomplish this while moving forward on other key objectives such as improving health care and education, encouraging alternative energy and addressing the problem of reforming government entitlement programs threatening even more damage to the economy.
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