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Town Hall Comes at Critical Time for US Economy, Politics

WASHINGTON—President Obama will speak Monday to a cross-section of Main Street, Wall Street and Washington gathered at a CNBC-sponsored town hall, with the economy at a crossroads and the nation's precarious political structure hanging in the balance.

Stephen J. Boitano for CNBC.com

Obama is to speak at noon at the "Investing in America" town hall. The audience will include college students and union leaders, small business owners and retirees.

With the president and Congress enmeshed in a heated debate about tax policy and a grumpy electorate tossing incumbents aside like rag dolls, the forum will provide an opportunity to chart a clearer course for a president whose poll numbers are strikingly low and his party beginning to revolt.

The event will be held at the Newseum, a monument to the First Amendment and a few blocks up Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.

CNBC chose the site both for its free-speech symbolism and its capacity to handle such events. The network held a similar event last year for Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Stephen J. Boitano for CNBC

It's unclear whether Obama plans to break any news at the event, but he'll be sure to face some testy questions as his battles with Wall Street intensify.

Even as his administration touts a recent agreement for $30 billion in small business loans, critics say his administration has been decidedly anti-business with its new and costly health care reform programs and the uncertainty over whether he will let tax cuts expire at the end of 2010.

"What we’d like to hear is that the president recognizes what the problem is—the consumer and consumers spending,” said Bill Dunkelberg, chief economist of the National Federation of Independent Business, when discussing the town hall.

A new CNBC poll found that 90 percent of Americans are concerned about the economyand 55 percent feel that repealing tax cuts would be detrimental. The administration and Congress have been having back-and-forth negotiations on whether to continue the cuts, established across-the-board by former president George W. Bush.

While the lower-bracket cuts are less controversial, Congress remains divided over whether to maintain the cuts for those earning more than $250,000 annually.