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Fixing economy to be focus of Obama's address to Congress

Fixing the economy will top the agenda when U.S. President Barack Obama addresses Congress Tuesday night in a televised prime-time speech that millions of people are expected to watch.

Fixing the economy will top the agenda when U.S. President Barack Obama addresses Congress Tuesday night in a televised prime-time speech that millions of people are expected to watch.

It is the first chance for Obama to update the country on his administration's progress so far, as well as make his case for more action on health care, energy, education and the budget deficit.

Address to Congress

Watch Obama's address live on CBC Newsworld and CBCNews.ca. Coverage begins at 8:55 p.m. ET, with the speech starting shortly after 9 p.m.

His speech will also touch on foreign policy and have all the trappings of a State of the Union address, coming two days before he delivers a budget blueprint to Congress. However, unlike that fine-tuned document, Tuesday night's address will be spelling out what he wants to do and how in broad, brush strokes.

He is expected to push ahead on ensuring health coverage for all Americans, as well as seek to expand educational opportunities, diversify the country's energy sources, secure sacred entitlements like Social Security, and halve the soaring budget deficit in four years, White House officials said Monday.

Obama will also make clear that the trillion-dollar-plus deficit is one he "inherited" from the previous administration, forcing him to pursue a costly stimulus package.

It's time to be aggressive

Gunning for so much at once is complicated, both in terms of the issues themselves and the politics. Senior presidential adviser David Axelrod said Monday there is a risk in taking on too much.

"I think the bigger concern," he said, "is to not be aggressive at a time when a tepid approach could really consign us to a long-term economic catastrophe. We believe the times demand vigour and aggressive action, and so we're having to do a lot of things at once."

Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the top Republican on the House committee on oversight and government reform, said Obama's speech amounts to a coming-out party.

"You never know what a salesman's going to sell you until he shows up at your door," Issa said of his expectations. "If he gives us a narrow set of priorities that can be executed, and they don't just involve more spending, then I think it will be refreshing. If he gives us a long laundry list, which most presidents do, then although it will set the agenda.… it won't be as meaningful."

The president is also likely to put the often jargon-filled world of economic life in plainer terms. He did so Monday in saying that the yearly deficit — the difference between the government collects and what it spends — is not some abstract accounting problem.

It requires paying interest on debt. Obama said that interest cost $250 billion in 2008 alone, more than three times what was spent on education.

Obama's address, tentatively scheduled for 45 minutes, accounting for applause time, comes during a time of daily depressing economic news.

Investors haven't warmed to the Obama administration's steps so far. On Monday, Wall Street took another pounding, with the Dow Jones industrial average tumbling to its lowest close since 1997.