Obama can’t undo two years of over­spend­ing

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

The third year of Barack Obama’s pres­i­dency is run­ning into the same trou­bles he faced in his first two, thus un­der­min­ing his prospects for a sec­ond term.

No is­sue looms larger than the econ­omy’s con­tin­ued weak­ness, de­spite $1 tril­lion in stim­u­lus money Mr. Obama and his party threw into a black hole of gov­ern­ment spend­ing with lit­tle to show for it ex­cept un­prece­dented gov­ern­ment debt.

For­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney, the Repub­li­can front-run­ner for the GOP nom­i­na­tion who built his rep­u­ta­tion in busi­ness be­fore en­ter­ing pol­i­tics, says he’ll fo­cus his cam­paign on the ane­mic econ­omy and how to get it mov­ing again.

Smart strat­egy. The Obama econ­omy — that’s what we can call it now — will be far and away the is­sue that will de­ter­mine the out­come of the 2012 elec­tion, and it isn’t any­thing to brag about.

The un­em­ploy­ment rate re­mains high at 9 per­cent, but that’s the av­er­age and doesn’t re­flect the dis­mal job sit­u­a­tion in many parts of the coun­try. Rates in ma­jor, highly pop­u­lated states re­main in dou­bledig­its and many oth­ers have not at 19.2 per­cent.

If Democrats across the coun­try are look­ing for some out­rage from their party’s lead­ers about all of this, they won’t hear it com­ing from the Democrats in Congress, who rarely com­plain about the high job­less rate for fear of be­ing seen as crit­i­ciz­ing Mr. Obama’s eco­nomic pol­icy — even though he no longer has one.

That rep­re­sents quite a turn­around for the Democrats, who were pound­ing Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush on the econ­omy in 2007 — just be­fore the re­ces­sion hit — when the un­em­ploy­ment rate was 4.7 per­cent.

Mr. Obama and his party bet the barn that their costly pub­lic-works spend­ing plan would cre­ate tens of mil­lions of jobs and boost the nation’s eco­nomic growth rate.

But two years and five months later, the once-ro­bust Amer­i­can econ­omy is crawl­ing along at a snail’s pace — 1.8 per­cent growth rate, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Com­merce Depart­ment’s lat­est re­port on the coun­try’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct.

As the econ­omy slows, so does job cre­ation. “An­a­lysts ex­pect the May jobs re­port to show 195,000 net new po­si­tions cre­ated, a step down from the 244,000 added in April,” Wash­ing­ton Post eco­nom­ics re­porter Neil Ir­win wrote this week.

As much as the White House bal­ly­hoos job num­bers that have crept into the 200,000 range, it’s go­ing to take monthly job num­bers in the 300,000 range (which we saw in the 1980s growth spurt) to keep pace with pop­u­la­tion growth and bring job­less rates down to nor­mal lev­els by 2013 at the ear­li­est.

An­other Obama pol­icy, which adds to the econ­omy’s weak­ness, is the gov­ern­ment’s ex­ces­sive spend­ing and its grow­ing $14.3 tril­lion debt. That battle is be­ing fought out on Capi­tol Hill in the debt-limit de­bate, with House Repub­li­cans de­ter­mined to tie ma­jor spend­ing cuts to a bill rais­ing the debt ceil­ing by $2 tril­lion.

The White House has been fight­ing nec­es­sary spend­ing cuts, but it’s clear the Repub­li­cans are play­ing the stronger hand. A ma­jor­ity of vot­ers be­lieve Mr. Obama’s un­prece­dented spend­ing and debt lev­els have re­duced pri­vate busi­ness in­vest­ment and se­ri­ously weak­ened job cre­ation.

Clearly, the vot­ers do not like the way Mr. Obama is han­dling ei­ther the econ­omy or the gov­ern­ment’s bud­get, and his job ap­proval polls re­flect that. This week, the Gallup Poll re­ports that his num­bers have fallen pre­cip­i­tously: 46 per­cent ap­prove of the job he’s do­ing and 45 per­cent dis­ap­prove. Not ex­actly a stel­lar re­port card.

Mr. Obama has been scram­bling to re­pair the po­lit­i­cal dam­age by feint­ing to­ward the cen­ter. He an­nounced a plan to end hun­dreds of reg­u­la­tions but left all the new ones he pushed for in place; agreed to ex­tend the Bush Pa­triot Act that he once harshly crit­i­cized; urged Democrats to be more flex­i­ble on bud­get cuts, while op­pos­ing the GOP’s de­mands for deeper cuts; and talked up tax re­form to lower the top rate, some­thing he’s never men­tioned be­fore.

But no amount of feints to the right can change his big-spend­ing rep­u­ta­tion now. The na­tional news me­dia is fo­cus­ing heav­ily on the Repub­li­cans’ emerg­ing pres­i­den­tial bench when the re­ally big story is Mr. Obama’s grow­ing chances of be­com­ing a one-term pres­i­dent.

Don­ald Lam­bro is a syn­di­cated colum­nist and for­mer chief po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent for The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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