The memos, obtained by The New Yorker magazine for publication next Monday, showed Obama caught in a tough situation of trying to follow through on campaign promises despite adversarial Republicans or working to build consensus in Washington, which was another campaign promise.
Economic realities also forced Obama to downsize his agenda, The New Yorker said. During his first few months in office, Obama's advisers told him that the amount of government spending he was inheriting from the Bush administration was extreme, which affected how he could deal with a deepening economic crisis.
"If your campaign promises were enacted then, based on accurate scoring, the deficit would rise by another $100 billion annually. The consequence would be the largest run-up in the debt since World War II," one of the memos said.
Some of the memos indicated Obama was willing to compromise and leave behind larger goals. For example, he agreed to cut $60 billion in stimulative spending from the stimulus to allow for a $70 billion tax provision -- a fix to the alternative minimum tax -- that was important to Democratic leaders but didn't help jump-start the economy.
He also modified his plan to cut corporate loopholes, giving up $16 billion in revenue, to address concerns from multinational corporations, the magazine said.
Obama also tried to reach common ground with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., inviting the House Republicans' voice on budget issues to a summit on fiscal issues and asking staffers to look into his ideas. At the end of a memo about fiscal discipline after the summit, he asked his staff to seek out ideas from Ryan, one of the most conservative members in the House.
"Have we looked at any of the other GOP recommendations [e.g. Paul Ryan's] to see if any make sense?" he wrote.
He also could be seemingly hard on members of his party in Congress. When told in a memo that then-Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., wanted to write a highway bill that included $115 billion more in spending that Obama proposed and would be funded through a hike in the gas tax, Obama wrote a terse "no" and underlined it.
After campaigning in 2008 on the themes of "hope" and "change," Obama found difficulty trying to accomplish those lofty goals within the constraints inside the Beltway.
The internal memos provide insight into what Obama eventually acknowledged publicly: frustration with Washington and politics, which he began working into his speeches.