Thursday, July 2, 2009

Job One -- Pressure on Obama to Show Stimulus Results

The Note: Job One -- Pressure on Obama to Show Stimulus Results
July 02, 2009 8:06 AM

Of the very many things President Obama took on when he assumed office, the one that matters Thursday is the hard bigotry of high expectations.

That’s because this is a job-number day -- time for that monthly glimpse of economic activity that doubles as a political barometer in the age of the stimulus.

The numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, out at 8:30 am ET, will be bad -- those always-smart economists expect in the range of another 370,000 lost jobs in June, as we lurch toward double-digit unemployment rates -- though probably not as bad as they’ve been.

And, if you listen to the Obama administration economists who will fan out to make the case as soon as the numbers drop, not nearly as bad as it would have been without the stimulus.

But this is the political peril of spending three-quarters of a trillion dollars before you even get comfortable in Washington: You’re expected to know where it’s all going, and then you’re expected to prove that it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing.

Skepticism is growing on that front. (Old charts and predictions don’t go away, and who believes jobs and being “saved or created” when the numbers say they’re being lost?)

Think this isn’t something they’re thinking about at high levels inside the West Wing?

Said Vice President Joe Biden, on a conference call with local officials: “My rear end is on the line, just like yours,” Biden said, per Time’s Michael Scherer. “I’m the guy in charge of this deal. So if it doesn’t work, it’s me.”

“What really haunts the White House is the fear that much of the money might be spent less efficiently than it could have been,” Scherer writes. “Hanging over all these concerns is the prospect that a second stimulus bill may be needed to bail out states in late 2010 or 2011. . . . In June, White House counselor David Axelrod left open the possibility that a second stimulus may be needed. The White House is confronted with the prospect of having to ask for more money early next year — even as a group of voters is ready to dump the first stimulus right now.”

What should also haunt the White House: “Even as the nation's economy begins clawing its way out of the worst recession in 60 years, there are growing signs that this recovery could come with an unsettling twist: The wheels of commerce may begin to turn again without any substantial boost in jobs,” Don Lee writes in the Los Angeles Times.

“Not only is the national unemployment rate, now 9.4%, likely to climb into double digits later this year, but it is also expected to remain there well into 2010, economists say. That would prolong the misery of the unemployed, squeeze retailers and other businesses, and add millions of dollars in government costs and lost productivity. It could even threaten the recovery itself.”

Paul Krugman sees a “prolonged jobless” economic recovery, unless there’s more stimulus spending. “The fact of the matter is that the unemployment rate is much worse than the administration contemplated or that most people expected,” Krugman tells ABC’s Jennifer Parker.

A new character joins the debate. Coming Thursday from the GOP: House Republican Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio,unveils a Web video with “Ellie Mae” the bloodhound (and featuring the voice of Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga.), sniffing the country in search of jobs.

“The fact is the stimulus isn’t working,” Westmoreland says. “Washington keeps spending your money, but jobs keep disappearing.”

Hang in there honey,” Boehner tells Ellie Mae, “we’ll find ’em.”

The numbers don’t catch anyone at the White House off-guard: The president meets with business leaders at 1:45 pm ET, and delivers remarks on “innovation and jobs” about 2:20 pm ET, before heading to Camp David for the holiday.

One of the problems in spending stimulus cash . . . Biden Wednesday touted broadband access, and yet, “the first dollars for broadband expansion won't be spent until the end of the year at the earliest,” The Washington Post’s Cecilia Kang reports. “Some analysts and telecommunications industry insiders have said that orders for telecommunications network equipment and services have been delayed as potential applicants for broadband funds wait for the government to push forward with the grants and loans.”

As for that newfound Democratic optimism: “We have 60 votes on paper,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., tells The New York Times’ Carl Hulse. “But we cannot bulldoze anybody; it doesn’t work that way. My caucus doesn’t allow it. And we have a very diverse group of senators philosophically. I am not this morning suddenly flexing my muscles.”

Hulse reports: “Indeed, becoming the first party in 30 years to reach the fabled plateau of 60 could create as many political problems as it solves, raising expectations sky high and potentially causing a backlash should Democrats falter on energy or health care.”

New Quinnipiac numbers: “Approval among independent voters is 52-37 percent, compared to 57-30 percent in a June 4 survey. . . . The survey of more than 3,000 voters also finds that voters feel 32-30 percent that things in the nation have gotten better since President Obama was inaugurated. Independent voters say 32-27 percent that things are worse, with 40 percent saying things are the same”

Costs, coloring the health care push: At his town hall Wednesday, the president “cast his proposal as a cost-saver, rather than a giant expenditure, saying the economy was not likely to rally without reversing ‘the crushing cost of health care,’ ” Jeff Zeleny writes in The New York Times.

Obama “is signaling flexibility on many of his previous stances as he tries to put a health-care deal together,” The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler reports. “Asked about the shift in positions, White House spokesman Reid Cherlin said the president would prefer that Congress adopt his health-care plan. But ‘there is recognition across the board that we can't wait another year to get this done,’ he said.”

And yes, that was a presidential hug: “President Obama played the comforter-in-chief Wednesday when a woman with kidney cancer, no insurance and little hope went looking for help at his health care summit,” Michael McAuliff writes in the New York Daily News.

Regarding Debby Smith, the recipient of the hug: “Smith said after the town hall meeting that she had been invited to attend the session by the White House. But while the former accountant said she was working for Organizing for America -- a pro-Obama group pushing healthcare overhaul -- she had been advised she would probably not have the chance to ask a question,” The Boston Globe’s Susan Milligan reports. “The exchange with Smith was vividly reminiscent of many encounters then-candidate Bill Clinton had in 1992 on the campaign trail, when scores of patients told sad stories of being denied coverage or treatment for illnesses, despite having been once employed and insured.”

“The questions posed from social media networks were selected by White House staffers, and the three people he called on from the audience all were affiliated with advocacy groups that support Obama,” USA Today’s Susan Page reports.

“White House officials said that was a coincidence,” per The Washington Post’s Michael D. Shear and Jose Antonio Vargas.

(As for those outside the hall -- Dana Milbank has some of the enlightened commentary from the White House Facebook discussion page, with such gems as: “WHO LIKES POTATOES!!!!!!!”)

How does this bode for health care’s political prospects -- and Obama’s political coattails? Virginia gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds passed on an opportunity to be alongside the president in Northern Virginia Wednesday.

“I've got this thing I'm working on -- I'm trying to be elected governor of Virginia,” Deeds told Rosalind Helderman of The Washington Post. “As much as I would have liked to be in Annandale with the president and the governor, I needed to be in Hampton Roads today.”

Slashing prices: Democratic lawmakers say the revised plan from Senators Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., “would cost dramatically less than an earlier, incomplete proposal, and help show the way toward coverage for 97 percent of all Americans,” per the AP’s David Espo. “The two senators said the Congressional Budget Office put the cost of the proposal at $611.4 billion over 10 years, down from $1 trillion two weeks ago. The revising also ‘virtually eliminates’ an earlier forecast that the proposal would cause many companies to drop coverage for their workers, they said.”

Fireworks this weekend: “U.S. missile defenses are prepared to try to knock down the last stage of a Taepodong-2 missile that North Korea is expected soon to launch if sensors detect the weapon threatens U.S. territory, the commander of the U.S. Northern Command told The Washington Times,” per the Times’ Bill Gertz.

Fireworks next week: “The Obama White House on Wednesday adopted a hard line against negotiating away missile-defense sites in Eastern Europe and limiting NATO expansion in the former Soviet Union, just days ahead of a summit meeting in Moscow,” The Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Weisman, Gregory L. White, and Alan Cullison report. “The hardened posture made it clear the Kremlin wouldn't make headway on two of its top priorities for the summit.”

The big word on a big crisis: Mark Leibovich has his take on California, and the gubernatorial race: “Who Can Possibly Govern California?” is the headline on his New York Times Magazine piece. (Answer: Maybe Gavin Newsom?)

As for Gov. Mark Sanford, R-S.C.: “On Wednesday afternoon, Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell became the latest -- and one of the most significant -- members of the S.C. legislature to say the governor should consider stepping down after admitting to an affair,” The State reports.

And how far is Sanford’s closest ally, state Sen. Tom Davis, from following him?

“Before any important decision I make comes due diligence, and I owe it to my constituents to perform that due diligence before taking a public position on an issue as important as whether to call for the resignation of a duly-elected statewide official,” Davis said in a statement. “Accordingly, I have met today with the governor and members of his staff; I have had telephone conversations with my friend, Jenny Sanford; I have talked with the governor’s legislative supporters and opponents; and I have talked with key reform leaders.”

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.: “A lot of us are talking to him behind the scenes in hopes that he'll make the right decision about what needs to be done.”

Plus: “Gov. Mark Sanford left the Governor’s Mansion without a security escort, 38 times in 2008. In the first six months of this year, he left the mansion without security, 39 times,” The State’s Clif LeBlanc reports.

Think he can make it? This is one column’s worth of headlines from The State’s Website: “Sanford has no plans to budge . . . Governor's mental state questioned . . . Many talking to Sanford as calls for resignation grow . . . DeMint not pushing resignation . . . Jenny Sanford staying with parents in Fla. . . . Saga a hot revenue stream for ETV . . . Sanford adds to trip reimbursement . . . Sanford 'crossed lines' with others.”

“Gov. Mark Sanford’s long and emotional interview with The Associated Press Tuesday appears to have been the final straw for South Carolina’s Republican establishment, much of which is now actively seeking his resignation,” Politico’s Andy Barr and Jonathan Martin report.

“Republican lawmakers in South Carolina who had supported the governor since he acknowledged the extramarital affair last week suddenly turned against him, saying the disclosures amounted to a distraction that would prevent him from effectively doing the state's business,” The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker reports.

What it means that arguments over Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, rage still: “Palin is an irresistible personality around whom the arguments about the Republican future continue to swirl. But the events of this week reflect deeper arguments inside a party that cannot yet be sure if it has hit bottom -- as [Norm] Coleman's departure from the Senate reminds all Republicans,” The Washington Post’s Dan Balz and Perry Bacon Jr. report.

Always good for congressional approval ratings: “Spending by lawmakers on taxpayer-financed trips abroad has risen sharply in recent years, a Wall Street Journal analysis of travel records shows, involving everything from war-zone visits to trips to exotic spots such as the Gal├ípagos Islands,” The Wall Street Journal’s Brody Mullins and T.W. Farnam report. “The spending on overseas travel is up almost tenfold since 1995, and has nearly tripled since 2001, according to the Journal analysis of 60,000 travel records. Hundreds of lawmakers traveled overseas in 2008 at a cost of about $13 million. That's a 50% jump since Democrats took control of Congress two years ago.”

And who makes what at the White House? “Twenty-eight-year-old speechwriter Jon Favreau, for example, rakes in the top salary, $172,000: just as much as Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Senior Advisor’s David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett and National Security Advisor Gen. Jim Jones,” per ABC’s Sunlen Miller.

The Kicker:

“Rational people don't do that.” -- State Sen. Larry A. Martin, R-S.C., on Gov. Sanford’s confessional tour.


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