8 a.m. ET: President Obama's No. 1 priority for his first term, health care reform, has gotten off to a halting start in the Senate. His next major goal, climate change legislation, is even further from completion. And there's little indication that the major financial regulatory overhaul the president unveiled yesterday is anywhere near reaching his desk. With those initiatives and others pending, is Obama's window for major legislative action beginning to close?
That's the question raised by a pair of new surveys, both of which show overall support for Obama's policies slippling. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found small but measurable drops in Obama's approval rating and his handling of the economy. "These rising doubts threaten to overshadow the president's personal popularity and his agenda, in what may be a new phase of the Obama presidency," the Journal suggests in its dramatic write-up of the poll, while MSNBC quotes pollster Peter Hart saying: "There is no more smooth sailing for the administration. They are going to have to navigate in pretty choppy waters.”
The New York Times/CBS News poll reached similar conclusions, finding that the public is increasingly concerned about the budget deficit and that fewer than half of respondents approve of Obama's handling of health care and the auto industry. So is Obama's presidency really slipping away? The situation doesn't appear quite that dire. The NYT/CBS poll still puts Obama's approval rating at 63 percent, and his overall poll average has barely budged in two months. Also on the bright side for the White House: The WSJ/NBC survey found just "25 percent hold a favorable view of the Republican Party, which is an all-time low for it in the poll." So even if the public is wary of Obama's policies, it isn't exactly rushing out to embrace the opposition.
Still, Obama does have his work cut out for him, particularly on health care. The Senate Finance Committee postponed its markup of reform legislation yesterday, while the HELP committee engaged in partisan bickering. Neither panel has a plan that appears anywhere near complete, and Democrats are scrambling to cut the cost of their proposals. The idea of taxing employer health benefits faces a particularly tough road, with Republicans reflexively opposed to the concept and major unions now signaling that they would fight hard against such a proposal.
Obama unveiled his plan for a financial regulatory overhaul yesterday, which was not welcomed by Wall Street. A pitched battle awaits the president on Capitol Hill if he is serious about getting his proposals signed into law. Which raises the question: When exactly does Obama expect Congress to consider his plan? Obama has already asked the House and Senate to complete both health care reform and climate change legislation this year -- a tall order -- and they have to consider the usual slate of appropriations bills. It may be several months before the Hill would have a serious chance to take this up, and by then who knows what the state of the economy will be. The ground may shift beneath Obama's plan before it ever gets written into legislative language.
In the Senate, the disintegration of John Ensign's career continued Wednesday, along with a curious dynamic -- as his future prospects dim, they become much brighter in memory than perhaps they ever were. The Los Angeles Times says Ensign "was supposed to help lead the GOP back to viability." He was? And while Ensign did go to Iowa recently and was at least toying with the idea of a presidential run, his White House aspirations were in the most nascent stages and probably not known to the vast majority of Republican voters. But the longer the fall, the better the story.
If Ensign wants to figure out what to do next, perhaps he can learn from the example of John Edwards. The North Carolinian granted an extended interview to Alec MacGillis of The Washington Post, though he wouldn't talk about his affair or whether it produced a child or the federal investigation or the state of his marriage or any of the other stuff that probably most interests readers. But he did talk about his desire to continue his fight against poverty, though MacGillis points out in the story that Edwards hasn't followed through with some past commitments to help the downtrodden.
June 18, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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