Remember the economy?
President Obama on Thursday will kick off a series of day trips devoted to job creation with a trek to Austin, Texas, where he will refocus on his proposals to increase the minimum wage and raise cigarette taxes to fund expanded preschool, among other economic initiatives about which the administration has had little to say of late.
Amid debates in Washington over comprehensive immigration reform and gun control, the White House's economic message has been overshadowed. While outside events have intruded on his agenda, critics assert that Obama has so far failed to produce a comprehensive, long-term plan to right the economy, voters' top worry.
Obama trumpeted the ideals of economic fairness during the campaign and in his State of the Union address in January, but ultimately failed to muster the congressional support needed to advance his plans.
"He starts out effectively with his economic focus but inevitably gets swallowed up by Congress -- and things grind to a halt," said Keir Murray, a Houston-based Democratic strategist. "The administration hasn't put those issues front and center lately. I haven't seen a lot of branding of his economic message in his second term."
In defending Obama's economic track record, White House officials point to an $800 billion economic stimulus program, the bailout of U.S. auto manufacturers and the extension of Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class as measures that are putting the nation on the path to recovery. And the latest monthly jobs report, which showed the unemployment rate dipping to 7.5 percent, alleviated some concerns about a spring swoon for the U.S. economy.
But the White House still has difficulty connecting specific Obama policies to economic growth, a phenomenon often reflected in public polling on the president's handling of the economy.
"When was the last time you saw a major news story about a new White House initiative to get the economy going?" said Republican pollster Whit Ayres. "If he had been effective in building an economic message, you wouldn't see the levels of angst we still see today."
That challenge is particularly vivid in Texas, a state that has enjoyed a jobs boom through most of the recession -- but where conservative leaders insist that economic growth was the result of state economic policies and not the Obama administration.
"Previous efforts have sort of gone over with a big thud," Martin Medhurst, an expert on presidential communication at Baylor University, said of the president's economic appeals. "Merely restating what he's said in the past doesn't seem like an effective rhetorical tool."
The White House hasn't previewed any new economic proposals for the Austin trip. Obama is expected to talk about his plans to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour and increase the cigarette tax from $1.01 to $1.95 a pack. Such measures haven't gone anywhere on Capitol Hill.
"In spite of the fact that Washington is on occasion throwing up obstacles to economic growth and job creation, there are areas across the country where positive steps are being taken towards the kind of [policies] the president talked about in his State of the Union," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday. "Austin is a great place to go for that."