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Stakes Are High as Obama Prepares Economic Plan

  • Kent Klein

President Barack Obama walks to the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, August 31, 2011.

President Barack Obama walks to the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, August 31, 2011.

President Barack Obama will go before a joint session of Congress and a nationwide television audience next Thursday, September 8 to announce his plan to boost the struggling U.S. economy. The president’s chances of being re-elected could depend on the outcome.

With the economy stagnating and unemployment hovering around nine percent, the president said recently said he will unveil a plan to put more Americans to work.

“I will be laying out a series of steps that Congress can take immediately to put more money in the pockets of working families and middle-class families, to make it easier for small businesses to hire people, to put construction crews to work rebuilding our nation’s roads and railways and airports, and all the other measures that can help to grow this economy,” said Obama.

Opinion polls

Recent public opinion polls show that Obama’s job approval rating has sunk to about 44 percent, one of the lowest rates of his presidency. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed [65 percent] say they are not happy with the way he is handling the economy.

As a result, other polls indicate that the president could be vulnerable in the November, 2012 presidential election.

Partially because of political concerns, there has been disagreement within the West Wing and around Washington on how aggressive Obama’s job creation proposals should be.

White House officials are said to be considering including job training programs for long-term unemployed, tax cuts for middle-income Americans, and tax breaks for businesses that hire workers. The program also may contain new spending to rebuild schools, bridges, roads and other infrastructure.

Free-trade agreements

In addition, Obama is expected to continue to call on Congress to approve pending free-trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea.

The president and his aides describe their plan as a reasonable initiative that should be acceptable to opposition Republicans.

“These are bipartisan ideas that ought to be the kind of proposals that everybody can get behind, no matter what your political affiliation might be. So my hope and expectation is that we can put country before party and get something done for the American people,” he said.

But Representative Joe Walsh, from the central state of Illinois, said it is not likely that the president will propose anything that he and his fellow Republicans could endorse.

“In general, I think it is going to be more stimulus, more government expenditures, more government borrowing to try to stimulate the economy, and, look, it has failed for three years. We need the opposite of what the president has done, not more of the same.”

Republican critics

Republicans are expected to campaign instead for tax cuts and and a freeze on some government regulations on businesses.

Because Republicans are not expected to support the president’s plan, some political analysts say Obama should propose a sweeping package of legislation.

Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said “The president should probably go big, because the truth is that he is not going to get anything passed whether it is big or small. So he might as well sound as though his plan is grand and that it would have a big impact if the Republicans passed it. But nothing is going to happen, and that is obvious to everybody.”

Roger Hickey, the co-director of a liberal advocacy group called the Campaign For America’s Future, also wants the president to put forth a bold plan.

“If he simply focuses on what will pass the Republican Congress, he will look to the American people like he does not think it is the crisis that they feel it is.”

Even the routine scheduling of the president’s address to Congress became mired in partisan disagreement. Obama asked House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner to allow him to speak in the House chamber next Wednesday night, at the same time as a televised debate among Republican presidential candidates, some of whom are members of Congress.

The speaker rejected the request, and offered to let the president speak the following night, when the National Football League season begins. The administration accepted the offer.

One lawmaker who will not be in the House chamber on Thursday night is Republican Representative Walsh, who said the speech will be nothing more than a political show.

“He is trying to create the impression that he is a leader, and I just will not be a prop in this play of his. I am not going to attend the joint session. I am going to fly home that night and hold a town hall with the real job creators in this country, small business men and women.”

State of the economy

Some people in Washington say this speech may be the most important of President Obama’s career. But Sabato said it’s the state of the economy that will determine whether Obama is re-elected in 2012.

“The only thing that will affect the president’s re-election is whether the economy actually gets better, not whether speeches are given about the economy getting better.”

The administration’s Office of Management and Budget is forecasting that the unemployment rate will linger around nine percent through next year. However, the president’s press secretary, Jay Carney, said passage of Obama’s jobs plan would help reduce that number.