WASHINGTON – In a sudden political shoving match, President Barack Obama asked Congress to convene an extraordinary joint session next Wednesday to hear his much-anticipated proposals to put jobless Americans back to work, but House Speaker John Boehner balked and told the president he ought to wait and speak a day later.
If Obama gets his way, his speech will upstage a Republican presidential debate scheduled for the same time. If Boehner prevails, the president’s address could conflict with the opening game of the National Football League season.
There was no immediate resolution to the sparring match.
Obama asked Congress on Wednesday for a prime-time slot Sept. 7, giving him a grand stage for a televised address and putting him face to face with Republican lawmakers who have bitterly opposed his agenda and vow to vote down any new spending he might propose.
His appearance also would be a political poke in the eye at GOP presidential candidates who are to gather for a campaign debate in Simi Valley, Calif., at the same hour as the president’s speech.
Usually, presidential requests to address Congress are routinely granted after consultations between the White House and lawmakers.
In this case, the White House notified Boehner’s office on the same day it released the letter requesting the session. A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said Boehner’s office raised no objections or concerns.
But Boehner, in his formal reply, said that the House would not return until the day Obama wanted to speak and that logistical and parliamentary issues might be an obstacle. The House and the Senate each would have to adopt a resolution to allow a joint session for the president.
Boehner’s spokesman Brendan Buck said no one in Boehner’s office signed off on the date and accused the White House of ignoring established protocol of arriving at a mutually agreed date before making public announcements.
Among the reasons the White House chose Wednesday rather than Thursday was that officials there didn’t want Obama to compete against the start of the NFL season. That game, between the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers, is being carried live by NBC at 8:30 p.m. EDT. NBC is also a co-sponsor, along with the newspaper Politico, of Wednesday’s Republican debate. Both sponsors said they would not postpone the GOP event.
Boehner’s letter did not mention the Republican debate on Wednesday or Thursday night’s Saints-Packers game. But the political gamesmanship was clear.
Tweeted GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich: “From one Speaker to another…nicely done John.”
Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader, had no objection to Obama’s request. “Sen. Reid welcomes President Obama to address Congress any day of the week,” said Adam Jentleson, a spokesman.
Obama is expected to lay out proposals to increase hiring with a blend of tax incentives for business and government spending for public works projects. With July unemployment at 9.1 percent and the economy in a dangerously sluggish recovery, Obama’s plan has consequences for millions of Americans and for his own political prospects. The president has made clear he will ask for extensions of a payroll tax cut for workers and jobless benefits for the unemployed. Those two elements would cost about $175 billion.
“It is our responsibility to find bipartisan solutions to help grow our economy, and if we are willing to put country before party, I am confident we can do just that,” Obama wrote Wednesday in a letter to Boehner and Reid.