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Obama Wants Senate to Prioritize Bills Tied to Economy

President Barack Obama used a Tuesday meeting with Senate Democratic leaders to urge action on three agenda items in the coming weeks as part of a larger messaging strategy on the economy, the top issue on voters’ minds leading to the November elections.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the meeting with more than a dozen Senate Democrats focused on three measures that Obama wants passed in the next two weeks: a financial regulatory overhaul, an extension of unemployment insurance and a measure aimed at boosting small-business lending.

Gibbs said action on those issues will send a “fairly clear” message about Democratic priorities as lawmakers head home for the August recess.

“You’re going to get to decide whether there are new rules in the road for the way banks and Wall Street works, or you’re not. You’re going to get to decide whether you’re for helping the long-term unemployment or you’re not. You’re going to get to decide whether you think there should be increased lending for job creation in small business or not,” he said during a Tuesday briefing. “Those are votes that will be important and a conversation that will be important as we move into the fall.”

Sen. Mark Pryor, who attended the meeting, said jobs and the economy were “a pretty consistent theme” for the duration of the gathering. “Everybody understands how important that is, not just politically but for the country,” the Arkansas Democrat said. “I mean, we really have to do things to try to get those jobs going again here in the U.S.”

The high-level huddle came as a new NBC News poll shows sinking numbers for Democrats: 51 percent of respondents said they would rather have Republicans run Congress as a check on Obama’s policies, and 52 percent said the president has spent too little time on the economy.

Gibbs said the poll numbers reflect the frustration felt by many — including the president — over the shaky economy. But he emphasized that votes on the three issues discussed in Tuesday’s meeting will show that Democrats are making choices that leave Americans in better shape, a theme that echoes his recent remarks about voters having a choice between both parties in November.

Many Democrats are in tough races, and “people are going to have to make a choice in the fall,” Gibbs said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “There’s no doubt there’s enough seats in play” to allow “Republicans to take control” of the House in the 112th Congress, he added.

The White House spokesman’s comments riled House Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who shot down the idea of House Republicans taking control. “Anytime the White House wants to lower expectations, that’s OK with me,” she said, according to a Monday posting on the San Francisco Chronicle website.

But Gibbs said Tuesday that Democrats do not “have anything to be dispirited about” and that the Democratic Party “will be invigorated by the choice and the discussion that will be had over the course of the next several months” about steps taken to boost the economy.

“We can take a robust case to the American people about the steps that we’ve taken to help this economy recover, to lay that foundation for economic growth in the long term,” he said.

Gibbs declined to say whether his comments about a House GOP takeover were part of a strategy to spur Democrats into action in their campaigns. “I hesitate to lift the curtain quite that much,” he said.

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