White House advisers promise sharper focus on jobs

WASHINGTON (AP) - A politically shaken White House promised
Sunday a sharper focus on jobs and the economy, but key advisers
were less sure-footed on health care reform. They took a
wait-and-see approach as the dust settles from the punishing loss
of the late Edward M. Kennedy's Senate seat.
President Barack Obama's poll numbers are off - primarily
because of the slow economic recovery and double-digit
unemployment. And a majority of Americans also have turned against
health care reform, the president's signature legislative effort
that was likely killed with Scott Brown's stunning upset in the
special election in Massachusetts.
"The president has always gotten the message," top Obama
adviser David Axelrod said. "The message is, we need to grow this
economy in a way that allows hardworking people who are meeting
their responsibilities to get ahead instead of falling behind."
Axelrod said Americans would learn more about White House plans
for the economy on Wednesday when the president delivers his first
State of the Union address. The adviser offered no specifics; there
has been talk of a second economic stimulus package, one totaling
around $175 billion.
On health care, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said
discussions were under way to see whether Democrats can take some
kind of action in Congress. Valerie Jarrett, another top adviser,
said Obama had spoken to congressional leaders over the weekend
"to try to see what the climate is, what's the art of the
Indications are that independent voters, key to Obama's 2008
victory over Sen. John McCain, may move heavily to Republicans in
November midterm elections for Congress and governors.
Looking to prevent future surprises like Brown's Senate victory
and to block the feared Republican surge in November, Obama has
brought back to the White House his adviser David Plouffe, the
political mastermind of Obama's against-the-odds presidential
"He will help supplement an already good political staff ... in
helping us watch the 2010 elections, the gubernatorial, the Senate
and the House elections," Gibbs said. Both Gibbs and Axelrod said
there was no White House shake-up in the works.
Having watched Obama suffer through one of the cruelest
political weeks of his first year in the White House, Senate
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had no plans to give the
president any help or breathing room. He said the only hope for
health care was to "stop and start over and go step by step to fix
the cost problem."
More largely, McConnell said Obama needs to move to the
political center. "I think he'll find a lot more Republican
support than he's had in the first year," the senator said.
With health care languishing, Obama was likely as well to run
into heavy Republican opposition as he turns up the verbal heat on
America's big banks and financial institutions, calling for
legislation that would clamp off moves to grow even larger. He has
spoken of federal fees on transactions by those banks that have
taken government assistance and are once again showing massive
profits and paying outsized bonuses.
Obama is moving in that direction even as opposition grows in
the Senate to his nomination of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben
Bernanke to a second term. Officials in the White House and Senate,
however, predicted that Bernanke would be confirmed for a new
four-year term.
Gibbs said Bernanke was needed to ensure stability in the
financial system and warned lawmakers against "playing politics in
any way" that would send a negative message to financial markets.
Jarrett said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had
assured Obama that Bernanke had strong support among Democrats, and
McConnell said he anticipated bipartisan confirmation, although he
would not say how he planned to vote.
Bernanke, appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, is
widely credited with helping to prevent the recession from turning
into a depression. But his support of Wall Street bailouts has
angered the public.
Obama called Senate allies on Saturday to make his case for
Bernanke, whose term ends Jan. 31. The Senate is scheduled to vote
on Bernanke by week's end.
Gibbs spoke on "Fox News Sunday" while Axelrod appeared on
CNN's "State of the Union" and ABC's "This Week." Jarrett and
McConnell spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press."

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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