With gas prices on rise, Obama seeks to build momentum for economic agenda

Correction: Earlier versions of this article misstated the day President Obama will visit the University of Miami. He will visit on Thursday.

February 21, 2012

President Obama is preparing to lay out new proposals to increase domestic energy production and stem the cycle of fuel price spikes, administration officials said. The aim is to address the recent rise in gas prices, which pose a threat to the nation’s economic health and represent a growing political liability for the administration.

At an appearance Thursday at the University of Miami, which offers an industrial energy-efficiency program for engineers, Obama will flesh out his State of the Union call for the nation to boost investment in clean energy as a way to strengthen the economy.

The speech, which aides said would echo remarks the president made about energy at Georgetown University last spring, is intended to help the administration quell public concern about gas prices, which have risen by an average of 29 cents per gallon since December.

Although administration officials suggested that the volatility of fuel costs is cyclical — and unlikely to play a major role in the presidential election in November — Obama moved Tuesday to consolidate political momentum for his economic agenda.

He appeared at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with a group of ordinary Americans to demand that Congress continue to support his initiatives after lawmakers approved an extension of a payroll tax cut and long-term unemployment insurance last week.

“Congress did the right thing here,” Obama said. “Now my message to Congress is: Don’t stop here. Keep going. Keep taking the action that people are calling for to keep this economy growing.”

On a day when the Dow Jones industrial average crossed the 13,000 mark for the first time since the start of the 2008 financial crisis, the president cited recent evidence that the economy is recovering, including manufacturing gains and private-sector job growth.

The White House had viewed the extension of the payroll tax break as final “must-do” legislation in an increasingly partisan election year. Under the measure, 160 million workers will continue to receive about $40 extra per paycheck, according to the administration, and Obama aides said the money will help provide a buffer for Americans facing higher gas prices.

Winning more concessions from Republicans in Congress will be difficult for Obama. GOP leaders have been dismissive of his budget request for fiscal 2013, and they are criticizing the administration for the increase in fuel costs.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, released a chart Tuesday that showed the federal debt and spending soaring under Obama’s budget plan. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) noted that he plans to introduce legislation that would offer tax breaks to small businesses, and he challenged Obama to work with Republicans.

“If President Obama is serious, there is a real opportunity to work together to create jobs,” Cantor wrote on his blog.

Obama acknowledged the difficulty of forging political consensus in an election year. But he called on lawmakers to support other economic initiatives in his budget proposal, including tax breaks for small businesses and a plan that would allow homeowners to refinance their mortgages at low interest rates.

On Wednesday, the Treasury Department will present the administration’s plan for rewriting the nation’s corporate tax code, which is expected to include tax breaks for businesses that relocate jobs from overseas and a minimum tax on overseas earnings.

“The American people have no patience for gridlock. Americans do not have the luxury of putting off tough decisions,” Obama said. “There is a lot more we can do if we want to build an economy where every American can have a chance to find a job.”

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