WASHINGTON — President Obama will use his first address to Congress on Tuesday to present a road map for "how we get to a better day," a senior adviser said, in a speech intended to methodically explain his economic policies and argue that legislative revisions on health care, education and energy are crucial to lifting the economy.
The appearance before a joint session of the Senate and the House offers an opportunity for Obama to reprise some themes and initiatives from his candidacy that have been overshadowed by the economic emergency that has defined the first month of his presidency.
The televised speech, which his advisers have been preparing for as though it were a formal State of the Union address, is typically an opening act on Capitol Hill for a new president, a moment to outline specific goals of an administration. But the appearance by Obama follows a string of legislative action, notably passage of the economic stimulus package, along with a wave of criticism over a series of government bailouts and rescue plans.
"Sometimes these speeches can be a series of disembodied initiatives, a catalog of ideas that don't necessarily cohere," said David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the president. "Today, we've got huge challenges that are very much related, so there is a narrative to tell about how we get to a better day."
The president is not planning to announce significant new policies, officials said, but intends to explain how his agenda can advance despite the deepening recession and monumental budget deficit. The address will be heavily weighted toward domestic priorities and the economy, aides said.
The speech offers Obama his most expansive opportunity yet to explain how he believes principal pieces of his agenda can — and need to — be accomplished. He hopes to expand health care coverage, improve education programs, increase the country's energy independence and bolster regulations for the financial industry.
Although the Democrats control Congress and can help advance his agenda, the political challenges for the White House will be made instantly clear during the speech by the level of applause that his proposals receive. Republicans stood in near-unified opposition against his $789 billion economic stimulus plan, a signal of the rigid partisan lines already forming in the second month of his presidency.
Instead of selecting a member of the House or the Senate to respond to Obama, Republicans asked Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana to make the party's official statement after the address.
In a prelude to the 2010 budget outline he will present to Congress on Thursday, Obama also will explain his goal of cutting the estimated $1.2 trillion deficit at least in half by the end of his first term, largely by increasing taxes on the wealthy and withdrawing troops from Iraq.