President Barack Obama's speeches have a familiar ring these days -- no matter if it's guns, immigration or the budget.
Tout what he's already done. Say the public's in his corner. Demand Congress do something. Lament Washington dysfunction. Lay out his own plan. Avoid details. Urge voters to keep up the pressure. Warn it won't be easy. Bask in the applause.
It's the fill-in-the-blank approach to selling a presidential agenda: same template, just adjusted for the topic.
But the White House is betting this particular formula will help push Obama's ideas through, against a resistant Republican House and a skittish Democratic caucus in the Senate.
He struggled during most of his first term to balance competing interests, focusing on the legislative deal-making inside Washington instead of selling his vision beyond the Beltway. Obama has laid out a clear communications strategy to kick off his second term -- but without the kind of crisis-inducing deadline that averted the fiscal cliff, his challenge is figuring out how to translate that into actual action on the deeply controversial issues ahead.
The campaign-first, negotiate-second strategy worked when Obama pressured Congress to extend the payroll tax cut in 2011, avert an interest rate hike on student loans in 2012 and eliminate the Bush-era tax cuts for wealthier families. But none were as politically fraught as overhauling immigration, cutting entitlements or establishing new gun restrictions.
His remarks Tuesday on the need to avert the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester underscored the extent to which his pitch has become predictable, even formulaic. Just as he did on immigration last week in Las Vegas and on gun control Monday in Minneapolis, Obama said he wants "sensible" reforms and a balanced approach that "the overwhelming majority of the American people" support but Congress needs to get with the program.
And the reaction from Republican leaders, who are resigned to learning about White House proposals in speeches rather than private talks, followed a script, too.
Once again, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took to the Senate floor to claim that Obama prefers political gimmicks to problem-solving. McConnell zeroed in on a longtime Democratic proposal to eliminate the tax breaks for corporate jet owners, which would raise $4 billion over 10 years -- only a fraction of the $85 billion cost of pausing the sequester through the end of this year.
"Yet this is the kind of thing we've come to expect from this White House, which spends more time cooking up political dodges than reaching out to Congress to solve pressing problems," McConnell said. "That's why I have little doubt that the White House will likely spin these kinds of gimmicky tax hikes as a real answer to the sequester."
McConnell hasn't heard from the White House since New Year's Eve, when he played a key role in negotiating the fiscal cliff deal that set the March 1 deadline for the sequester, according to his spokesman.
At the time, White House aides said the two-month extension would give Congress time to work on a permanent solution. But with little discernible progress since then -- House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) hasn't talked with the president either -- Obama urged lawmakers Tuesday to pass another short-term fix, even as his spokesman reiterated a now-standard talking point that Washington should not function in a "state of constant crisis."
The White House plan for direct congressional engagement remains unclear. But Obama hinted at a potential strategy for rallying the public against Republicans, who appear increasingly comfortable with allowing the cuts to go into effect and blaming Obama for the consequences.
"While we need to deal with our deficits over the long term, we shouldn't have workers being laid off, kids kicked off Head Start, and food safety inspections cut while Congress completes the process," Obama said.
An administration official said the White House is keeping open its options for pressuring Congress.
But it wouldn't be hard to see the president beating this message on social networks, and at events at the White House and beyond, flanked by people who would be affected -- the same way he's handled almost every major fight with Congress since pivoting to the more aggressive approach with his 2011 jobs plan.
He has called groups into the White House that have a stake in the outcome. He's traveled outside Washington to pitch his plan. And he's used remarkably similar rhetoric along the way to make his case.
Addressing an audience after meeting with law enforcement officials Monday, Obama said: "One of the things that struck me was that even though those who were sitting around that table represented very different communities, from big cities to small towns, they all believe it's time to take some basic, common-sense steps to reduce gun violence."
It was the same pitch on immigration reform in Las Vegas: "I'm here because business leaders, faith leaders, labor leaders, law enforcement, and leaders from both parties are coming together to say now is the time to find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as the land of opportunity."
And on the budget Tuesday: "For all the drama and disagreements that we've had over the past few years, Democrats and Republicans have still been able to come together and cut the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion through a mix of spending cuts and higher rates on taxes for the wealthy."
Obama then moves on to point out the actions he's already taken before explaining why that won't be enough, but he likes to say "the good news" is that a broad coalition supports what he's prodding Congress to do.
"These are common-sense measures supported by Democrats, Republicans and independents, and many of them are responsible gun owners," Obama said. "And we're seeing members of Congress from both parties put aside their differences and work together to make many of them a reality."
He used almost identical language on immigration: "Now, the good news is that for the first time in many years, Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together. Members of both parties, in both chambers, are actively working on a solution."
His speech Tuesday urging Congress to replace the sequester with a deficit reduction plan was no different: "Now, I think this balanced mix of spending cuts and tax reform is the best way to finish the job of deficit reduction. The overwhelming majority of the American people -- Democrats and Republicans, as well as independents -- have the same view."
Congress isn't known for acting quickly, he says.
"If there's one thing that I've learned over the last four years, it's that you can't count on anything in Washington until it's done," Obama said Monday on gun control. "And nothing is done yet. There's been a lot of talk, a lot of conversation, a lot of publicity, but we haven't actually taken concrete steps yet."
"We can't allow immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate," Obama said last week. "We've been debating this a very long time. So it's not as if we don't know technically what needs to get done."
And the fight will be difficult, Obama continues, saying on guns that "changing the status quo is never easy," and on immigration that "the closer we get, the more emotional this debate is going to become."
But sanity should prevail, he adds.
"There is no reason that the jobs of thousands of Americans who work in national security or education or clean energy, not to mention the growth of the entire economy should be put in jeopardy just because folks in Washington couldn't come together to eliminate a few special interest tax loopholes or government programs that we agree need some reform," Obama said Tuesday while speaking about the budget.
Moments later, he ducked out of the White House briefing room -- before he had to answer questions on how exactly he planned to get it done.
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