James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

Obama’s lost year

Nov 5, 2009 17:10 UTC

Rahm Emanuel famously said that you “never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”  And certainly the sense of crisis earlier in the year helped the White House pass the $787 billion stimulus package. But where stands the rest of the Obama legislative agenda?

Healthcare. The House will likely pass a bill this weekend, but big difference remain with the Senate, including paying for the plan and what to do about a public option.

Cap-and-trade. Kerry-Boxer is going nowhere which is why Kerry and Graham are working on a a dual-track approach.

Financial regulatory reform. The House and the Senate have completely different notions about what to do about system risk regulation. Plus there may be new efforts to try and “shrink” the banks and limit the scope of future activities.

See you in 2010, Obama Agenda!

COMMENT

Everyone talks about how smart this president is. He is as dumb as a post. Bush didn’t pretend to be the smartest guy on the block. However, this guy Obama does pretend, but only fools people dumber than him like most of the people who elected him and the the DemoRat congress. He is just a hack that parrots things he has learned from his leftist mentors. This man does not have any principles or any original thoughts.

As a black man in America, I hoped that this guy would moderate and succeed. It seems that he is on the way to being a presidential failure because his welfare-state mentality and his weakness on foreign and military policy. He is someone that this black person will not ever respect unless he changes his leftist ways. (Which ain’t going to happen!)

Posted by Jack Smith | Report as abusive

What the polls say about Obama, one year since being elected

Nov 4, 2009 18:21 UTC

Scott Rasmussen crunches the numbers:

As president, Obama lost the support of Republicans in February during the debate over the stimulus package. Over the summer, economic concerns and the health care debate cost the president support among unaffiliated voters. By October, a month-by-month review showed that Obama’s overall job approval had slipped to 48% among Likely Voters.

This morning, on the anniversary of his election, the president’s Approval Index rating is at -13, just one point above the lowest level yet recorded and down 41 points since the Inauguration.

1)  Economic conditions have played a role in dimming Obama’s support. For much of the past year, voters continued to blame George W. Bush for the economy, but the blame is more evenly divided now between Bush and Obama.

2) The core promise made down the stretch to voters by candidate Obama was a pledge to cut taxes for 95% of all Americans. Now, more than 40% expect a tax hike and hardly anybody expects their taxes to go down. Not surprisingly, 74% of voters now view the president as politically liberal.

3) Just 33% believe the stimulus package has helped, and most opposed other economic initiatives including the takeover of General Motors and the cash-for-clunkers program. Among the priorities established by the president, voters consistently see deficit reduction as the most important but least likely to be achieved.

4) The health care plan proposed by the president is struggling and is supported by just 42% of voters nationwide. Confidence in the War on Terror spiked during the first weeks of the Obama administration but has now fallen to the lowest level in nearly three years. On a related topic, one of the president’s earliest initiatives, his promise to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, initially received mixed reviews but is now opposed by most Americans.

Sixty-five percent (65%) of voters now expect politics in Washington to become more partisan over the coming year. That’s up 25 points since Inauguration Day when a plurality believed politics might become more cooperative.

The president himself remains more popular than his policies. That gives him some good will to draw upon. However, as was shown in yesterday’s election results, the president’s ability to help other Democratic politicians may be limited.

‘Permanent Democratic majority’ begins to unravel

Nov 4, 2009 18:10 UTC

America’s “permanent Democratic majority” ran smack into the economy’s apparent “new normal” of high unemployment and big deficits. Score one for the economy — and for Republicans.

Now the Democratic spin on losing the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey is this: All politics are local. A weak candidate in one state, an unpopular governor in the other. Plus voters are cranky about the economy.

No broader conclusions should be drawn. Now let’s move forward and go pass healthcare, OK, America?

But the political reality is not nearly that sunny for Democrats’ political fate or the Obama domestic agenda. Jon Corzine lost in deep-blue New Jersey — a state Candidate Obama won by nearly 15 percentage points — despite outspending Republican opponent Chris Christie by some three to one.

And not only did Republican Bob McDonnell lead a GOP landslide sweep of major offices in swing-state Virginia, his 344,000-vote victory came against an opponent he defeated by just 360 votes in 2005 for attorney general.

And it wasn’t just the bad economy. Yes, exit polls showed great voter anxiety about high unemployment. But also notice huge Republican margins among New Jersey and Virginia independents, voters traditionally suspicious of government spending and budget deficits. These are the sorts of folks who left the GOP in 1992 to vote for Ross Perot and parted ways again in 2006 and 2008 because they felt Republicans had morphed again into big spenders.

(And the unemployment rate isn’t even that terrible in Virginia: 6.7 percent versus 9.8 nationally.)

Voter revulsion at trillion-dollar deficits and impatience about unemployment is creating a toxic environment for the Obama White House and congressional Democrats. Major legislative items like healthcare, energy and financial reform are already slipping into next year.

History suggests that incumbent parties who get big things done, get them done in the first year of a presidential term, such as the Reagan tax cuts or Clinton’s successful push for NAFTA. Midterm election years are where big policy dreams turn into nightmares, such ashealthcare reform in 1994.

It’s hard to imagine that the 84 House Democrats from districts won by either John McCain in 2008 or President Bush in 2004 are now more inclined to support either an expensive health plan or a cap-and-trade energy plan. Already Democrats are hinting at shrinking the former and putting the latter on the backburner. (One policy that might get more attention is a second stimulus package to create more jobs.)

Tuesday’s election results are a roadmap for political gridlock in Washington and a possible Democratic electoral disaster in 2010.

A respected political forecasting model by Ray Fair Yale University calculates that Democrats and Republicans should split the 2010 vote because of the economy. If that scenario unfolds, then David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, according to an interview with The Hill, thinks “Republicans will probably be winning back the House.”

Did Candidate Obama really transform the American electorate a year ago? Perhaps. (Though, then again, having the economy collapse right before Election Day may have helped artificially inflate his vote totals just a bit.)

But dissatisfaction at the policies of President Obama looks to have quickly transformed it right back.

COMMENT

Can you say – “REAGANOMICS”?

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive

Elections in Virginia, New York and New Jersey show shift in political landscape

Nov 3, 2009 23:24 UTC

First, a few obsevations:

1. Democrats are getting hammered in swing state Virginia. It’s not just Bob McDonnell, down ticket, too.

2. Independents (very deficit-phobic) look like they are flocking to VA GOP.

3. Economy isnt that bad in VA, just 6.7 percent unemployment. So more than just anxiety about job loss.

4. Blue Dogs will look at VA and fear for their seats, especially if McCain in ’08 or Bush in ’04 won their districts.

5. #4 is is bad news for Obama agenda. Already it looks like healthcare will slip into 2010.

6. Spending, spending, spending is freaking Americans out. “Trilion” has a powerful, visceral impact.

7. All the candidates in NY, NJ and VA ran as low-tax, control spending types. But McDonnell in VA was able to successfully paint Dem Creigh Deeds as a taxer and spender.

8. NY a sign that me-too, moderate Republicanism is a non-stater in party. Hofffman will encourage more primary challengers and boost folks like Rubio in FL and DeVore in CA.

9.  Will Blue Dogs revolting and GOP emboldened, Obama agenda as currently constituted is in bad shape.

10. Blaming Bush for economy is done as a political weapon. New polls show 49% blame Bush, 45% blame Obama. Give that number another year of high unemployment. This was Jon Corzine’s strategy vs. Chris Christie. Good thing for Corzine that he had Dem machine in his corner, plus outspent Christie by 3-to-1.

Bottom Line: While there were local factors as play, this election day is looking like a rejection of  big-spending Washington that seems to be doing little to fix the economy. And certainly using the weak economy as crisis to be exploited is at an end. Sorry, Rahm Emanuel. Just another data point, of course. But a significant one.

COMMENT

You make some interesting points, but it seems like we hear the same lines after each election. like the above commenter, whatever the results it seems like the conservative and liberal media just trade scripts. this blog from georgetown does a good job of explaining why this election may not really say that much about the results of 2010. http://gnovisjournal.org/blog/crunching- numbers-media-polling-spin-zone-meets-el ection-2009

Posted by trish | Report as abusive

A tale of two economic recoveries

Nov 3, 2009 18:38 UTC

Which one do you believe? John Hussman sketches them out:

1) One possibility, which is clearly the one that Wall Street has subscribed to, is that the recent downturn was a standard, if somewhat more severe than normal, post-war recession; that the market’s recent strength is an indication that it is looking forward to a full “V-shaped” recovery, and that the positive print for third-quarter GDP is a signal that the recession is officially over. Applying the post-war norms for stock market performance following the end of a recession, the implications are for further market strength and the elongation of the recent advance into a multi-year bull market.

2) The alternate possibility, which is the one that I personally subscribe to, is that the recent downturn was the initial phase of a more prolonged deleveraging cycle; that the advance we’ve observed in recent months most likely represents mean-reversion – qualitatively and quantitatively similar to the large and often abruptly terminated “clearing rallies” of past post-crash markets; that major credit losses are continuing quietly but are going unreported thanks to changes in accounting rules by the FASB this past spring, which allowed for “substantial discretion” in accounting for loan losses and deterioration in the value of securitized mortgages; that a huge second-wave of mortgage losses can be expected from a reset schedule on Alt-A and Option-ARMs that has just started (following a lull in the reset schedule since March) and will continue into 2010 and 2011; that intrinsiceconomic activity remains abysmal; that recent GDP growth is an artifact of massive fiscal stimulus that is unlikely to have sustained follow-through; and that recent market valuations are not representative of those observed at the end of most post-war recessions, but are instead similar to those observed at major market peaks prior to the mid-1990′s.

COMMENT

How about a middle ground? My take is the 3.5% GDP number took the v-shaped recovery off the table. As you pointed out in a previous blog entry, that number is quite low compared to the first quarter of recovery after previous downturns and therefore should have been interpreted as a disappointment.

Having said that, I’m not sure I can buy off on an overly gloomy picture going forward. I’ll take Hoffman at his word regarding the credit problems he listed, but does all of that translate into an economy that has only one place to go — down? I’d say it translates into an economy that still faces some headwinds. But headwinds or not, it’s usually been foolish to bet against the American economy. And oh yeah, don’t fight the Fed.

So my vote is for a modest recovery going forward, but recovery nonetheless.

Posted by Bill, Fairfax, VA | Report as abusive

Obama’s bad economic bet may ruin Democrats

Oct 29, 2009 18:19 UTC

The anemic third-quarter U.S. GDP report is another indication that President Barack Obama’s economic gamble may yet fail to pay off. And that could be terrible news for Democrats heading into the 2010 midterm elections.

While the new report showed the economy shifting into recovery mode, it looks like a pretty anemic expansion. As the economics team at IHS Global Insight see things, temporary factors such as cash for clunkers (accounting for nearly half of the past quarter’s growth) and the homebuyers tax credit artificially inflated growth during the past three months. The firm puts underlying growth in the economy at closer to 2 percent than the 3.5 percent.

See, back at the start of 2009, the new White House team wagered that it could construct a stimulus plan that would both boost the economy, helping Democrats in the 2010 midterms, and serve as a significant down-payment on its long-term policy agenda in areas like clean energy and education. That would help Obama in 2012.

It’s a lot to ask of one plan, even a $787 billion one.

Of course, the task would have been easier had the administration gone with a $1.2 trillion stimulus option suggested by White House adviser Christina Romer. But worried that the deluxe option would stall in Congress while also spooking global bond vigilantes, Team Obama went with the mid-sized approach.

The administration didn’t count on the recession being far worse than it anticipated, driving the unemployment rate toward double digits. So while the stimulus plan was effective enough to help nudge the economy away from depression in the second quarter — it’s tough to spend a trillion dollars with absolutely zero short-term impact — and into mild recovery mode during the third, it wasn’t nearly powerful enough to ignite a V-shaped recovery.

Indeed, during the first quarter of the last 10 economic recoveries, real GDP rose a far more impressive 5.8 percent on average. For instance, the first five quarters of the Reagan Boom coming out of the 1981-82 recession showed GDP growth of 8.1 percent, 9.3 percent, 8.1 percent, 8.5 percent,  and 8.0 percent.

There was another, better path Obama could have taken. In a new study, Harvard economists Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna conclude that fiscal stimuli based upon tax cuts are more likely to increase growth than those based upon spending increases. The Obama stimulus was two-thirds spending and one-third tax cuts or credits. And of course tax cuts thought more permanent by Americans could have produced a large impact on working, savings and investing – and powerful economic growth.

Romer herself has conducted research showing the economic oomph that tax cuts produce. And there’s research from economist Robert Barro who found that “a one-percentage-point cut in the average marginal tax rate raises the following year’s GDP growth rate by around 0.6 percent per year.”

As it is, Democrats are saddled with an economy that may not grow fast enough over the next year to substantially bring down the unemployment rate, if at all. So now there is a new wager in Washington: Just how bad will Democrat losses be next year?

COMMENT

Another Kudlow idiot-supply side has ruined this country

Posted by paul nelson | Report as abusive

A VAT danger for Democrats

Oct 7, 2009 19:44 UTC

A good point on the political dangers of a VAT from David Henderson of EconLog:

But here’s what’s not a quibble: what happened to the political fortunes of the Canadian government that imposed that tax, something that Leonhardt doesn’t mention. Brian Mulroney, the Canadian prime minister at the time, imposed the tax at an initial whopping 7%. It’s true that it replaced a narrower hidden 13.5% tax on manufacturing and that it was designed to be revenue-neutral. But precisely because the GST was visible, it generated enormous opposition. The Liberal Party made repeal of the GST one of its main issues in the 1993 election. By then, Mulroney’s party, the Progressive Conservatives, had kicked him out and replaced him with Kim Campbell. Granted that Campbell ran one of the most incompetent campaigns in Canadian history and granted that there was a recession on at the time. But do you care to guess what happened to the number of seats in Parliament that the Progressive Conservatives won in that election? Let me give you a hint. They started with 169 out of 295 seats. And they ended with a number that can be counted on the fingers of one hand. To be precise, they ended with 2 seats, a 99% drop, and, a few years later, the Progressive Conservative Party disappeared via merger.

COMMENT

The party that significantly raises taxes digs itself an electoral grave. This is despite necessity and or fiscal soundness.

A good example in NJ was Governor Florio. He had no choice but to raise taxes due to significant budget shortfalls during the late eighties-early nineties recession. His successors, certainly benefited, but he was voted out after one term.

Taxes are very tricky politically, and the more you can obscure their effects, and make them less visible overall the better.

Posted by Greg | Report as abusive

Noam Scheiber: Be happy with 8 percent unemployment in 2012, America

Oct 7, 2009 11:31 UTC

Over at his TNR blog, Noam Scheiber wonders what unemployment will be when Obama runs for reelection, noting that IHS Global Insight predicts it will be 8.1 percent:

8.1 percent unemployment in 2013 means a bit higher than that when Obama stands for re-election in 2012. In case you’re wondering, the last time the unemployment rate was nearly as high just before an election was 1992 (7.6 percent in September of that year–probably the last unemployment statistic to sink in before Election Day), which didn’t work out so well for the incumbent. Other high election-year unemployment rates in recent decades: 7.5 percent (September 1980) and 7.6 percent (September 1976), which also don’t appear to have helped the incumbent party’s cause.

On the other hand, it’s probably all somewhat relative. The 7.6 percent unemployment rate in September 1992 was pretty close to the peak of 7.8 percent from that business cycle, whereas 8.3 or 8.4 percent unemployment in September of 2012 would be substantially lower than the peak from this business cycle. By way of comparison, the unemployment rate stood at 7.3 percent in September 1984, but that apparently qualified as “morning in America” after a peak of 10.8 percent in 1982.

Me: One thing that Scheiber fails to grasp is that an 8 percent unemployment rate is roughly double what Americans have grown accustomed to in recent years. You could argue that 7 percent unemployment back in the early ’80s seemed more like a return to normalcy.

Americans then just came out nearly two decades of economic disruption. Americans today, a generation of prosperity. Expectations are different. Plus, unemployment has risen more than 5.4 percentage points from its cyclical low during this recession vs. 3.6 points during the early 1980s recession.

COMMENT

Well, Americans also grew ‘accustomed’ to seeing the value of their homes rising indefinitely and ‘accustomed’ to driving giant SUVs two blocks to the store to buy junk they didn’t need. If we should take the EXTREME excesses of last five years and have the gall to call it normal then America is sunk already.

Also, I find it interesting that you bring up the economic malaise of the 70s and early 80s often. You’re always quick to point the finger at Jimmy Carter and hail King Ronnie as a hero. Never once have I heard you mention that most of the problems if Carter were inherited direct effects of the massive spending in Viet-Nam and a severe recession in 72 that was never fully wrought out. Granted, his policies weren’t the greatest, but he was handed a deck stacked against him. And King Ronnie didn’t really see any effects of his radical changes (re:Reaganomics) for a full 3 years! In fact, things got much, MUCH worse the first 30 months under Reagan; the only good thing to come out of 80-83 was Michael Jackson’s Thriller album.

If Reagan gets 30 months grace and is lauded a hero for his destructive policies, maybe Obama should get more than nine months to see how his turn out.

Posted by the Shah | Report as abusive

Charlie Cook: 33-50 percent chance Dems lose House in 2010

Sep 30, 2009 16:39 UTC

I was at a Center for American Progress conference on the deficit this AM where respected political analyst Charlie Cook talked about the 2010 congressional midterms.  He said he thought there was a 1-in-3 to 1-in-2 chance that the Dems could lose the House of Representatives. Among his reasons:

1) Record drop in party ID where a 17 percent D edge has dropped to 5 over the summer.

2) An eight point drop in Obama’s approval rating over same period from 60 to 52.

3) Obama approval among independents has dropped to the low 40s. They are very worried about deficit and hyperactive government. Cook called it “visceral.”

4) Cook notes that more than 80 D House seats are in districts won by McCain in 2008 or Bush in 2004. And 48 are in districts won by both McCain and Bush in 2008 and 2008.

5) Dems could lose “a few” Senate seats, but then are set up for lousy 2012 and 2014 where they have to defend a lot of seats because of their big 200 and 2008 wins.

6) He thinks Obama should have given Bush more credit for rescuing economy at end of 2008.

COMMENT

It’ll be much more likely if Nancy Pelosi remains the Speaker.

Posted by Camron Barth | Report as abusive

Sarah Palin speaks! Some thoughts on her speech in Hong Kong

Sep 23, 2009 16:34 UTC

So Sarah Palin gave her big speech in Hong Kong. She talked about eliminating cap gains and estate taxes, giving people tax breaks to buy their own health insurance, and took a few shots at the Fed. That section was particularly interesting. (A bit of video here.) Here is the WSJ’s take:

“How can we discuss reform without addressing the government policies at the root of the problems? The root of the collapse? And how can we think that setting up the Fed as the monitor of systemic risk in the financial sector will result in meaningful reform?” she said. “The words ‘fox’ and ‘henhouse’ come to mind. The Fed’s decisions helped create the bubble. Look at the root cause of most asset bubbles, and you’ll see the Fed somewhere in the background.”

“Lack of government wasn’t the problem, government policies were the problem. The marketplace didn’t fail. It became exactly as common sense would expect it to,” she said. “The government ordered the loosening of lending standards. The Federal Reserve kept interest rates low. The government forced lending institutions to give loans to people who as I say, couldn’t afford them. Speculators spotted new investment vehicles, jumped on board and rating agencies underestimated risks. So many to be blamed on so many different levels, but the fact remains that these people were responding to a market solution created by government policies that ran contrary to common sense,” she said.

Me: I will  alsopredict that she’ll also come out strong against TARP, which may be a big dividing line among 2012 candidates.

COMMENT

@Jeremy
OK, here are my thoughts on the substance of the speech. Palin fundamentally doesn’t understand the causes of the economic crisis (this should come as no surprise to anybody that has ever seen her interviewed).
Government was not the root cause of the crisis and it is simply untrue to say that financial markets didn’t fail. If anything, INSUFFICIENT regulation (a lack of sensible constraints on leverage, etc) was a larger part of the problem. Saying this does not make one a socialist.
You can have a sensible discussion about such matters with an intelligent conservative like Mitt Romney, but Palin has absolutely nothing to offer to the debate.

Posted by Kramer | Report as abusive
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