Is the One sliding to zero?
Five months into his presidency, the biggest items on Barack Obama’s agenda are in deep trouble, and support for his handling of the economy and a ballooning budget deficit is plummeting.
The national news media were still trying to deal with the administration’s agenda as gently as possible, as if everything was on a steady course.
But his top proposals are dangerously off course and headed for defeat. Health care reform is mired in Democratic dissension, especially on the sky-high taxes needed to pay for it. His revenue-raising, inflationary climate change, “cap and trade” energy bill is all but dead. His economic stimulus plan has failed to create anywhere near the jobs he said it would, amid growing public doubts that the nearly $800 billion spending scheme will work at all.
There is even deeper public concern over a nearly $2 trillion budget deficit, according to recent newspaper polls that show a large majority of Americans want to slow down government spending — even if it means a slower economic recovery.
Despite the severity of the recession, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll published June 18 showed 58 percent said Congress and the president should focus more on reducing the deficit, even if that resulted in a longer economic downturn. Just 35 percent said stimulating the economy was more important even if it meant higher deficits.
More ominously, the polls showed continuing slippage in Mr. Obama’s job approval scores. The New York Times/CBS News poll found 63 percent approved of the overall job he is doing, down from 68 percent in April. The Wall Street Journal poll showed his approval dropping to 56 percent from 61 percent in April.
Reflecting widespread anxiety over worsening unemployment and an economy still in the doldrums, the Journal poll showed only a bare majority (51 percent) approved of his handling of the economy, down from 55 percent in April.
The huge budget deficits under Mr. Obama’s big spending plans were a source of worry, too. “Six in 10 people surveyed said the administration has yet to develop a clear plan for dealing with the deficit, including 65 percent of independents,” the New York Times reported.
These numbers, the Journal said June 19, “raised red flags at the White House that the president [. . .] is losing some ground with the public on his economic policies,” as the jobless rate rose to 9.4 percent in May and the administration said it would likely exceed 10 percent in the coming months.
The polls also show there is a wide gulf between the president’s personal approval scores and how Americans view his major policies.
The New York Times poll two weeks ago found that “A [63 percent] majority of people said his policies have had either no effect yet on improving the economy or had made it worse.”
Doubts about the spending stimulus continue grow as newspapers across the country ran negative stories last week about its impact, or lack of it, in their states. Significantly, the Journal poll found that just 37 percent now think that Obama’s economic stimulus program is a “good idea,” compared to 39 percent who said it is a “bad idea,” while 24 percent have no opinion at all or were not sure.
Meantime, a revealing Washington Post poll last week said “Barely half of Americans are now confident” Mr. Obama’s stimulus spending will boost the economy. Many of these doubts are fed by exaggerated claims about the number of jobs that have been “saved or created” that have proven illusionary.
“In fact, the original projections of Mr. Obama’s economic aides have turned out to be off by a very wide margin,” says veteran fact checker Brooks Jackson at factcheck.org.
Support for Mr. Obama’s nationalized health care plan doesn’t fare much better. Just 33 percent say his plan is a good idea versus 32 percent who say bad idea, with 30 percent having no opinion.
It has become the victim of sticker shock, with cost estimates running between $1 trillion and $2 trillion for openers. There are irreconcilable differences about plans to carve $300 billion out of Medicare benefits; to tax, for the first time, employer-provided health care benefits (opposed by union and nonunion workers alike); or to levy a national sales tax.
Unprecedented spending levels and skyrocketing debt are at the heart of Mr. Obama’s agenda, and this is where public support falls most sharply. The Post poll found nearly 9 in 10 Americans say they are “very” [56 percent] or “somewhat” [31 percent] concerned about the worsening deficits.
Most ominous politically for Mr. Obama and the Democrats: 61 percent of independent swing voters say they favor “smaller government with fewer services” over “larger government with more services.” Overall, smaller government wins 54 percent to 41 percent, The Post found.
So much for those on the far left who say a majority of Americans now favor bigger government in the Age of Obama. Clearly, they don’t.
Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.