Obama’s to-do list largely undone
Washington ? Midway through their first year in power, President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress can point to early signs the nation is beginning to shake off its worst recession in seven decades.
Yet there are glaring holes in their to-do list. The biggest and most difficult priorities had not been accomplished as Obama reached the six-month mark, ending the normal honeymoon period most new presidents enjoy.
While Obama and fellow Democrats did enact the $787 billion economic stimulus, much remains undone:
• Health care. An expansion of coverage for most of the estimated 48 million people without it has failed to pass either the House or Senate despite a now-expired Obama deadline.
• Global warming. His initiative squeaked through the House, opening major rifts in the party. It arrived in the Senate as a dead letter.
• Financial overhaul. Now on the back burner are a rewrite of lending and investing laws and a restructuring of government regulations. The goal is to prevent a repeat of last year’s financial and credit market collapses.
Obama and the Democrats did push through a massive package of tax cuts, benefit increases and job-producing public works projects to help alleviate the recession. They expanded health coverage to millions more children, clamped down on cigarette producers and placed the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court.
They bought some good will by offering as much as $3 billion in government rebates of $3,500 and $4,500 for people to trade in old gas guzzlers for new cars or trucks that get better mileage.
Democrats are confident their health care overhaul will pass by year’s end. But it has lost the aura of inevitability that surrounded it in the spring. It passed one House committee only after moderate “Blue Dog” Democrats prevailed upon House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to postpone a full House vote until the fall.
Many of them felt stung by their politically scorching votes to tackle global warming by raising people’s electric bills, despite mounting evidence the Senate probably won’t vote on it this year.
The House Appropriations Committee chairman, Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., acknowledged recently the early vote on global warming made it more difficult to keep pace on health care.
Polls show voters are losing faith in Obama’s $787 billion economic recovery bill and increasingly worried about the government’s mushrooming debt.
The president’s overall approval rating is solid, in the mid-50s in most polls, including a 55 percent rating in an AP-Gfk poll conducted July 16-20. But it has slipped from the levels that for a time kept Republicans from criticizing Obama directly. Now the gloves are off, and the tone in Washington is as partisan as ever.
Pollster Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press says despite that slip, the ground hasn’t fallen out from under him.
“Most importantly, the more general questions about confidence in him show no erosion,” Kohut said. “People still think that he’s going to fix the economy.”
A president’s signature accomplishment typically occurs in his first year in office, before the August congressional recess. It was tax cuts for President Ronald Reagan and deficit reduction for President George W. Bush, though health care proved elusive for President Bill Clinton.
‘The right direction’
Obama’s top accomplishment clearly is the $787 billion measure blending federal spending and tax cuts to try to revive the economy. It was initially popular in public surveys, but 58 percent of those polled in the mid-July AP-Gfk poll said they were not confident it is helping the economy. Only 9 percent said were very confident that it is.
“We’re pointed in the right direction,” Obama said Friday as new unemployment figures showed a slight dip in the jobless rate, even as the economy shed 247,000 jobs in July. “We’re losing jobs at less than half the rate we were when I took office.”
Lawmakers will return in September for a 3 1/2-month sprint. To do: a health care bill that Obama and Democrats can claim victory on; the dozen appropriations bills that so far feature double-digit spending increases for 2010; and legislation to bolster regulation of the financial system.
The Senate, or at least some of its committees, may take a stab at global warming.
Still looming are annual budget deficits projected to stay above $600 billion in the coming decade. The eye-popping $1.8 trillion or more deficit expected for the current year is weighing down Obama’s agenda — and also his standing with voters, especially with independents.
If and when he does tackle the deficit, he’ll be hard-pressed to keep his promise not to raise taxes on couples making less than $250,000.
Even as Obama’s popularity slips slightly and approval ratings for Democrats in Congress remain low, the GOP numbers are even worse. Chances of a political tsunami like that when Republicans swept Democrats from control of Congress in 1994 seem unlikely.