Obama to lay out sober assessment, hopeful future

President Obama will speak primarily about the economy in his address to a joint session of Congress.
President Obama’s address Tuesday to a joint session of Congress will have a heavy emphasis on the economy and will try to strike an optimistic tone, aides said.

That’s a sign Obama has heard the criticism, including from former President Clinton, that he needs to mix sober talk with an upbeat bottom line. “He believes we will meet these challenges and lift ourselves out of this” recession, one top aide said. “He will say, ‘The best days are ahead of us.’ ” The latest draft is running between 50 and 60 minutes, according to two senior aides. The speech will touch lightly on foreign policy so the president can focus largely on the economy and related issues, including health care, education and energy, aides said. The speech will air live on CNN and CNN.com at 9 p.m. ET. Join the conversation with CNN.com and Facebook The address will be “thematic” and won’t get into much detail on Obama’s plans to deal with the credit crunch and housing crisis, aides said. The broad theme will be that the country needs to look forward and not backward to solve the financial crisis, they said. Obama will lay out the economic challenges he has been discussing in recent weeks and suggest many people will have to sacrifice to dig out of the problems, a theme he hit Monday at a fiscal responsibility summit at the White House. Watch lawmakers meet with Obama on the economy »

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He “will build on the need to make sure we begin to make tough choices” to deal with the $1.3 trillion annual budget deficit burying the federal government, one of the aides said. Obama, a self-described “eternal optimist,” is expected to talk about the responsibility everyone has to help get the country back on track, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. “I think you’ll hear him begin the discussion on restoring a sense of fiscal responsibility to this town and understanding that we have to begin to live within our means,” Gibbs said Monday. The speech comes a week after Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus bill and two days before Congress receives a summary of his 2010 budget. In his weekly address Saturday, Obama said his budget is “sober in its assessments, honest in its accounting and lays out in detail my strategy for investing in what we need, cutting what we don’t and restoring fiscal discipline.” Obama aims to cut the $1.3 trillion deficit in half by 2013. In the GOP response Saturday, Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan said Republicans want to work with Obama. “If he is serious about dealing with the tough issues and getting spending under control, his budget will show it,” Camp said.

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Obama on Tuesday will discuss some of the important investments he wants to make, following up with more detail in Thursday’s summary, Gibbs said. Obama’s speech comes as a new poll indicates that nearly three out of four Americans are scared about the way things are going in the country. Read more about the poll While Obama’s approval ratings are high, Americans are less hopeful about his stimulus plan. Tuesday night will be Obama’s chance to narrow the gap between voters’ confidence in him and their confidence in his plans, said James Carville, a Democratic strategist and CNN contributor. “He’s been in office for a month. They want to see more; that’s understandable,” he said. “But right now, people are not feeling very good, and they’re kind of pessimistic about their future. While they have a lot of trust in the president, they want to hear more, and I think they’ll hear a lot more.” In his speech, Obama also will have the opportunity to lay out his agenda before the American people, Carville added. In recent weeks, partisan politics have defined the dialogue about his economic proposals. “To be honest, we have a tendency sometimes to over-hype speeches. I don’t think that we can over-hype this speech. I think this is a really important speech,” Carville said. “It’s going to be very critical what the president says. He’s got a tough job, to be realistic and hopeful at the same time. I think he’s going to do both,” he said, adding that he thinks this speech will be much more important than the inaugural address. Obama is aware of the balancing act ahead of him, Gibbs said last week. “I think he understands that it’s important for him to be confident and hopeful in the path that we’re taking, but honest about the many challenges that we face, and that’s what he’s working on doing,” he said. iReport.com: How are you coping with the econony Because Obama’s presidency is a month old, the speech is not technically considered a State of the Union address. The annual State of the Union speech is delivered in the chamber of the House of Representatives before members of both the House and the Senate as well as the justices of the Supreme Court, the president’s Cabinet and international dignitaries. A president’s first speech before a joint session of Congress is often referred to as an “annual message” or a message on a particular topic, such as an “economic message.” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal will deliver the Republican response to Obama’s speech. Watch what Jindal has to say » “I think our obligation is to work with the president every chance we can, to be bipartisan,” Jindal said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“But on principle, when we disagree with him, we should be unafraid to stand up on principle and to point out our alternative solutions.” Asked if that will be his message, Jindal said, “That will be a part of it. We can’t just be the party of no; we have to offer real solutions. We stand ready to work with our president.”