At the White House, a not-so-happy anniversary
By Ben Pershing
Did you remember to buy President Obama a card? It's a not-so-happy anniversary day at the White House, where the honeymoon ended a long time ago.
"Today marks one year since President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a. the economic stimulus package) and the fight over whether it was necessary or effective rages on," The Fix observes. The Washington Times writes: "A year after it became law, the stimulus package costs more than promised, has failed to keep down the unemployment rate and has faced charges of waste and abuse. But the federal spending - all of it borrowed - has helped many states avoid painful budget cuts to their education and public safety budgets, and according to official estimates has helped the gross domestic product grow faster than it would have otherwise." David Leonhardt paints a mostly positive picture, judging, "The program has had its flaws. But the attention they have received is wildly disproportionate to their importance." The Wall Street Journal reports that about one-third of the stimulus funds have been spent so far, "much of that to maintain social services and government jobs and to provide tax cuts for workers. Now, the pace and direction of stimulus spending are about to change. Infrastructure spending is set to step up in the second year of the stimulus program, which should mean more money flowing to private-sector employers."
Bloomberg examines the White House's promotional efforts: "In the first annual report on the legislation, Vice President Joe Biden wrote that the government spending 'halted an economic freefall.' Administration officials are fanning out across the nation this week to more than 35 cities to tout the measure's success." Biden was on "The Early Show" Wednesday, saying the American public had "gotten their money's worth" from the bill. The vice president wrote a memo to Obama nearly a year ago predicting that public opinion could turn against the stimulus, Time reports. Politico views the stimulus as a turning point in Obama's young presidency, "the last major legislative achievement he would put his signature to during his first year in office. In the months that followed, Obama's health care effort would run into a brick wall. His regulatory reform measure would face Wall Street delaying tactics. Cap and trade legislation would be vaporized by economic worries. ... And - with gridlock in Washington showing few signs of loosening up in this election year - the massive spending bill may yet come to define the first half of his first term."
Having touted the salutary effects of the stimulus' government spending, Obama is now pivoting to a focus on reining in red ink. "Obama on Thursday will sign an executive order establishing the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, to make recommendations on how to reduce the skyrocketing national debt," ABC News writes, adding: "The commission will be co-chaired by former President Bill Clinton's former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson ... the former Senate Republican Whip." The Washington Post notes that Republican leaders have so far declined to endorse the panel, "saying the commission is likely to be stacked to promote tax increases and designed to provide political cover to Democrats in the run-up to the November elections." McClatchy adds, "Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives have indicated that they'd be willing to hold votes on any debt reduction recommendations an Obama commission forwarded to Congress -- but only if the Senate voted first."
Ahead of next week's planned health-care summit, "a Zogby International poll released Tuesday shows that 57 percent of Americans do not like either of the competing health care bills produced by the Senate and House and say Congress should start over," the Washington Times reports. (Giant grain of salt -- the Zogby poll was conducted online, a method most pollsters dismiss.) Which party will gain the most from the event? "Congressional Republicans see a chance for political gain in President Barack Obama's televised health care summit next week, even though the president will be running the show," the Associated Press writes, adding that while Democrats' plans would cover millions more people, "during a time of ballooning deficits, the GOP figures reining in rising medical costs -- not coverage -- could resonate with voters in an election year." Politico notes that "Robert Gibbs ducked questions during the press briefing Tuesday on whether the president would post his own merged bill on the Internet ahead of the health care summit, given that congressional leaders are still struggling to agree on a way forward."
Matthew Yglesias laments that the public likes many of the components of health-care reform, but aren't willing to pay higher taxes or agree to an individual mandate to make it work. Jonathan Cohn tackles the question, "Does losing health insurance make you more likely to die?" USA Today finds: "Pharmacists, optometrists and groups representing an array of medical specialists boosted their political giving in 2009, as Congress worked on health care legislation that would dramatically reshape their industry, a review of new campaign-finance reports shows. Donations by the top 15 health care political action committees rose to $11.7 million in 2009, a nearly 14% increase from 2007, the most recent non-election year."
In case you haven't heard, Evan Bayh is a moderate, he's unhappy and he's leaving the Senate. Dan Balz writes that Bayh's move "touched off a debate Tuesday among strategists and scholars about whether the Indiana senator's depiction of the 'brain dead' politics and hyper-partisanship of Congress is accurate or overblown -- and, if accurate, whether walking away was the right decision." AP says "the moderate middle is disappearing from Congress. Evan Bayh is just the latest senator to forgo a re-election bid, joining a growing line of pragmatic, find-a-way politicians who are abandoning Washington. Still here: ever-more-polarized colleagues locked in gridlock -- exactly what voters say they don't like about politics in the nation's capital." The New York Times reports that Bayh's "comments this week about a dysfunctional Congress reflected a complaint being directed at Washington with increasing frequency, and there is broad agreement among critics about Exhibit A: The unwillingness of the two parties to compromise to control a national debt that is rising to dangerous heights." Ezra Klein says Bayh was "a deficit hypocrite," just like most politicians.
Robert Schmuhl thinks "what's clear from Bayh's decision is that he sees continued Senate service as a political dead-end, akin to a civic hamster wheel. ... Bayh's Presidents' Day announcement might be interpreted as his declaration of independence from the Senate, but to call it his retirement swan song is a misnomer. He'll be back once he figures out another political route for his ambition." Looking at the national map, Adam Nagourney writes that Bayh's move "has raised Republicans' hopes of capturing a significant number of Democratic Senate seats in November. Some Republicans and analysts are even suggesting that the party might take control of the Senate. ... But a review of the political map suggests how daunting the Republican task would be, requiring both a continuing barrage of bad luck for Democrats and nothing short of a flawless performance by the Republican Party." Keying off the 2008 results, Politico notes "some of the same unlikely states that Obama put in his party's column 15 months ago feature Senate, House and governor's races with Democratic candidates in grave danger of losing in what is quickly shaping up to be a toxic election cycle." Only 44 percent of respondents think Obama should be reelected, according to the latest CNN poll.
February 17, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: The Rundown
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