Awaiting Obama's Speech To Congress

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President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress Tuesday night in a nationally televised speech. What can we expect from the address?

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, home prices plummet, what that means for President Obama's home rescue plan.

First, the president speaks to a joint session of Congress tonight. It's not officially a State of the Union speech, but it will have much of the same pomp and ceremony. The speech is at 9 p.m. Eastern. It will be televised, and so Mr. Obama's real audience will be you and I, the people watching at home. NPR's Scott Horsley's here now. He's also be monitoring the speech.

And Scott, I guess it'll be economy as the number one topic.

SCOTT HORSLEY: You know, there's really no escaping that. The president said yesterday that this is not the situation he or any new president would like to inherit, but he's faced with rising unemployment, you talk about those plummeting home prices, a record number of foreclosures. So he's going to be talking about the steps he and Congress have already taken, like the $787 billion stimulus plan, the foreclosure prevention plan he unveiled last week in Arizona.

He's also expected to provide some more detail about his administration's efforts to shore up the banking system. That's something that the secretary of Treasury rolled out a couple of weeks ago and has been criticized for not having enough details. So we may learn more about that and about efforts to strengthen and update financial regulations so we don't find ourselves in a situation like this again.

BRAND: And then, he's also talking about reducing the deficit.

HORSLEY: Yes. Even as the federal government is spending massive amounts of money in the short run to try to jumpstart the economy, Mr. Obama has promised over the course of his first term to cut the deficit in half. Now, that would still be, you know, more than half a trillion dollars, so it would still be a big deficit. But this was the topic of a summit meeting at the White House yesterday.

They focused not only about some things like cutting spending on troops in Iraq or raising taxes on the wealthy, which is going to be part of the president's budget, but also long-term challenges like getting a grip on health-care cost. And this was a bipartisan meeting. Senator John McCain was there, Congressman Eric Cantor, who's been one loudest voice of opposition to the president. And when you talk about cutting the deficit, these are things that Republicans can applaud, so there should be at least something for the other side of the aisle to cheer about tonight.

BRAND: Several polls that are out today show that the president has really broad approval, very strong approval ratings on behalf of the American public. I'm wondering, though, what are they going to be looking for from the president tonight, and could what he says tonight - could it really affect the way the public views him and the goodwill that the public has for him?

HORSLEY: Well, this has been something of a question in recent days, you know, about the tone that the president sets. He has been pretty somber in most of his pronouncements on the economy, going back to his inaugural speech, and his spokesman, Robert Gibbs, says the president feels it's very important to be honest with the American people about the economic challenges we face, but there's also an argument that he needs to serve as a cheerleader in chief.

We learned just today that consumer confidence has fallen to an all-time low, and so there's some sense that the president has a responsibility to buck people up a little bit, and we expect him to end the speech with a confident note. No sugarcoating exactly, but a little sweet confidence to help some of the tough medicine go down.

BRAND: And he'll also be talking about other issues besides the economy?

HORSLEY: A little bit. We expect him to talk about Afghanistan. Last week, he ordered more U.S. troops there to help combat the resurgent Taliban. He'll also talk about how there's no purely military solution in Afghanistan. There's also a need for diplomacy and development. But the big concern for his listeners tonight is going to be economics, and so we expect that's where the president's main focus will be.

BRAND: NPR's Scott Horsley covering the president, watching his speech tonight before Congress. That speech broadcast at 9 p.m. Eastern. Scott, thank you.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Madeleine.

BRAND: Also, NPR's political junkie Ken Rudin will be blogging tonight's speech. You can get analysis from him and other NPR reporters at npr.org, where you'll also be able to hear live coverage of this address.

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