The pres­i­dent’s rat­ings be­gin to slip with an­a­lysts

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DON­ALD LAM­BRO

An­a­lysts from Wall Street to lib­eral think tanks in Wash­ing­ton are giv­ing Pres­i­dent Obama gen­er­ally crit­i­cal to in­com­plete grades for his per­for­mance thus far, fault­ing him for be­ing dis­tracted by pop­ulist sideshow is­sues such as the con­tro­versy over ex­ec­u­tive bonuses and not fo­cus­ing more on the cen­tral is­sues of re­build­ing con­fi­dence in the econ­omy.

Some an­a­lysts say in many re­spects it is Fed­eral Re­serve Chair­man Ben S. Ber­nanke who has been tak­ing the lead in grap­pling with the econ­omy’s thorni­est prob­lems and not the White House or Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Ti­mothy F. Gei­th­ner. Busi­ness economists give the pres­i­dent a grade of ei­ther I for in­com­plete or U for un­cer­tainty.

“His suc­cess thus far is the stim­u­lus bill, which is a nec­es­sary though not suf­fi­cient con­di­tion for keep­ing the re­ces­sion from lead­ing to de­fla­tion and global de­pres­sion,” said Thomas E. Mann, se­nior fel­low in gov­er­nance stud­ies at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion.

“The fi­nan­cial res­cue ef­forts have been shaky. What lit­tle pub­lic sup­port for the ef­fort that ex­isted un­der Bush has di­min­ished fur­ther un­der Obama. He has been be­hind the curve of pop­ulist anger, which leads to the kind of harm­ful [90 per­cent tax] leg­is­la­tion that the House passed Thurs­day [March 19]” to re­coup ex­ec­u­tive bonuses paid with fed­eral bailout money, Mr. Mann said on March 20.

On Wall Street, an­a­lysts say Mr. Obama has too of­ten lost his fo­cus on the econ­omy’s big pic­ture and has had his at­ten­tion di­vided among too many is­sues, such as health care, en­ergy and cli­mate change re­forms that they say should not be his top pri­or­i­ties right now.

“He’s done a de­cent job of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, though not as good as he could. A lot of the ideas are good, but there has been a lack of fo­cus. He’s got to make clear that pri­or­ity num­ber one is get­ting the econ­omy go­ing and putting this other stuff on the back burner,” said David Wyss, chief econ­o­mist at Stan­dard & Poor’s, the fi­nan­cial re­search and fore­cast­ing firm.

“No­body likes th­ese bonuses, but we’re talk­ing about $165 mil­lion, and we’re de­tour­ing the en­tire coun­try to face that? How about Congress do­ing some­thing about fore­clo­sures?” Mr. Wyss said.

Mr. Wyss, among other an­a­lysts, was es­pe­cially crit­i­cal of Mr. Obama’s fail­ure to fill key posts at Trea­sury that the an­a­lysts say are crit­i­cal to fi­nal­iz­ing and im­ple­ment­ing his eco­nomic re­cov­ery plans. For­mer Fed Chair­man Paul A. Volker, a lead­ing eco­nomic ad­viser to the pres­i­dent, told the Joint Eco­nomic Com­mit­tee late last month that it was “shame­ful” that Mr. Gei­th­ner still did not have his deputy and as­sis­tant sec­re­taries “re­spon­si­ble in sub­stan­tive ar­eas at a time of very se­vere cri­sis.”

Mr. Obama wasn’t get­ting any pass­ing grades at the Cham­ber of Com­merce, ei­ther, said Martin Re­galia, chief econ­o­mist for the na­tion’s largest busi­ness lobby.

“I’d give him an I for in­com­plete or a U for un­cer­tainty. I can’t say it’s failed yet. We’re still in the process, but you can’t give him a grade for clear-cut progress be­cause that’s not ev­i­dent yet,” Mr. Re­galia said.

“They just haven’t pro­vided any de­tails that are go­ing to bring con­fi­dence back to this mar­ket, and without con­fi­dence, we are not go­ing to see im­prove­ment,” he said. “If you look at his bud­get, it goes af­ter peo­ple who have money. Those are the peo­ple you need putting their money at risk. But his bud­get says even if you put your money at risk, guess right and win, we re go­ing to come in af­ter the fact and take it away from you.

“The cor­po­rate com­pen­sa­tion is­sue in the House was a sideshow. I don’t think he han­dled that par­tic­u­larly well,” Mr. Re­galia said.

Mr. Obama’s pub­lic ap­proval polls re­main rel­a­tively high over­all, but some sur­veys show some ero­sion in sup­port for the way he has han­dled the econ­omy to date.

“Over­all, 55 per­cent of vot­ers say they at least some­what ap­prove of the pres­i­dent’s per­for­mance so far. That’s his low­est over­all rat­ing to date,” poll­ster Scott Ras­mussen said on March 20.

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