Tales from the Trail

Cleveland was no accident, Gibbs confirms

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs confirmed what had been suspected.

USA/OBAMAThere was a reason for choosing Cleveland as the venue for President Barack Obama’s economy speech on Wednesday and his name is John Boehner — the man who would likely be House Speaker if Republicans oust the Democrats from control on Nov. 2.

Cleveland was where House Republican leader Boehner gave his economy speech two weeks ago in which he suggested Obama toss out his economic team, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House economic adviser Larry Summers.

And it’s no accident that Boehner and Obama are paying so much attention to Ohio less than two months before the congressional elections – it’s a swing state with a crucial Senate race and several competitive House races.

To what extent was tomorrow’s speech a direct resonse to Boehner’s remarks from a couple of weeks ago?

“It’s in the same city and I think the president will use that opportunity to contrast a vision of returning to a decade of policy and value decisions that got us into this mess which, if you look back at what Congressman Boehner said in that speech, he seemed to lay out a strong predicate for the very same type  of decisions that had been made over the past 10 years that got us into this mess.  I anticipate the president will spend a decent amount of time discussing it,” Gibbs said.

Washington Extra – pain relief

Just a few quick thoughts ahead of the Labor Day weekend. President Barack Obama plans to unveil a package of measures to stimulate hiring and the economy next week, although we are assured this will absolutely not be a second stimulus. I guess that means it won’t have a major price tag attached, in terms of its effect on the deficit. But you also have to wonder how much effect it will have on the economy, even if Obama manages to get any of it through Congress. BAYER

Some relief, then, that this week’s economic numbers have not been as grim as many had feared. The private sector is not dead and buried, if today’s payrolls report is anything to go by. But don’t expect growth or hiring to pick up nearly fast enough to save the Democrats from pain in November.

Finally, take a look at our special report on the Food and Drug Administration’s efforts to crack down on increasingly aggressive marketing tactics by drug companies. Critics accuse Big Pharma of pushing medicines on people which they often do not need, without fully disclosing the risks. Sadly, even the FDA admits it is outgunned, and lacks the resources to keep pace.

It was just a game of golf!

Ever since he played golf with President Barack Obama last week, New York newspapers have been rife with speculation that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is being wooed by the administration to replace Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary. 

USA/The White House dismissed the speculation as fantasy and Bloomberg dismissed the idea. But still as summer draws to an end, what else is there to talk about going into the Labor Day holiday weekend except the lackluster U.S. economy?

More bad news for Obama on Friday with the unemployment rate rising to 9.6 percent. The economy is not creating jobs fast enough to reduce the unemployment rate and give Democrats more comfort going into the Nov. 2 congressional elections with their majority in Congress at stake.

Obama to push message on economy, hold news conference

Washington pundits questioned President Barack Obama’s decision to devote so much time this week to foreign policy with his Iraq speech on Tuesday and his foray on Wednesday into Middle East peacemaking at a time when Americans are preoccupied with the economy.

But Obama’s message next week seems like it will be heavily focused on jobs and the economy. He will mark Labor Day with a “Laborfest” event on Monday in Milwaukee and travel to Cleveland on Wednesday for an event on the economy. USA/

On Friday, he will hold a news conference at the White House.

Could next week bring a decision on how he will fill two key jobs — chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and the head of the new U.S. consumer agency?

Rough spots for Obama on the economic…. statement

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Things were looking good for President Barack Obama’s statement on the U.S. economy in the White House Rose Garden: the sun was shining in a bright blue late-August sky.

It was a chance to show that he was paying close attention to the issue most on the minds of Americans. The statement came just after he ended a 10-day vacation trip to the pricey resort island of Martha’s Vineyard, and before he launched into a week largely devoted to foreign policy, with an Iraq speech and Mideast peace talks on the agenda.

But everything wasn’t cooperating. Obama had to start his remarks three times because of technical problems with the White House sound system.

Washington Extra – Just Keep Smiling

bernanke1In the past few days we have seen the president and the chairman of the Federal Reserve both standing up and insisting they had more cards at their disposal to rescue the faltering American economy. In truth, though, both men look like they are holding weak hands, and are reduced, for the time being, to putting a brave face on things.

With short-term interest rates already at zero, Ben Bernanke has few cards he can play, and none of them feel like sure-fire winners. One is to restart an aggressive program of purchasing government securities to drive long-term interest rates down still further, another is to cut the interest rate on reserves, and a third, desperate measure would be to raise the inflation target. None of those cards are likely to be played unless things get significantly worse.

In theory President Barack Obama has more options at his disposal, but it is far from clear what he can actually get through Congress in election season. Today Obama promised that his economic team was “hard at work in identifying additional measures” to support the economy and boost hiring. But he had few new ideas to offer, besides extending tax cuts for the middle class that are set to expire this year, increasing government support for clean energy development, and rebuilding more U.S. infrastructure.

Laura Bush says every president faces unfair criticism

Former first lady Laura Bush says every president is unfairly criticized and it comes from both friends and foes.

She spoke to ABC’s “Good Morning America” from the Gulf Coast, where she is on a visit for the fifth anniversary of  Hurricane Katrina. USA/LAURABUSHHer husband, former President George W. Bush and his administration were sharply criticized for slow federal response to the disaster.

“The differences are huge now, five years later. Each time I came there was a little bit of improvement, but really now I think after five years things are starting to look great,” she said.

Washington Extra – Slipping poll numbers

It’s more bad news for President Barack Obama with the release of our latest Reuters/Ipsos national poll today. The headline number is that, for the first time since he took office, more Americans now disapprove of his performance than approve. After a long period where his approval rating was stable at just over 50 percent, the last three months have seen a steady deterioration, matching the economy’s faltering performance.
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Just like Ronald Reagan in 1982, Obama’s mid-term poll ratings are suffering from the economy’s woes. Faith in Obama’s ability to tackle the crisis was a key factor that swung the presidential race his way in 2008, but his performance on the economy is fast becoming his Achilles heel in the face of a concerted Republican assault. As Ipsos pollster Cliff Young told us, many voters had long been giving Obama the benefit of the doubt, but now patience has “basically vanished.”

Last month’s Reuters/Ipsos poll found Obama’s approval rating for his economic leadership was lower — and was deteriorating faster — than on any other issue.  This month’s poll gives some more clues as to why this is the case. Unemployment and government spending topped voters’ economic concerns, with 72 percent and 67 percent of respondents saying they were very worried over those issues respectively.

Republicans have been trying to convince voters that last year’s deficit-financed economic stimulus was not effective in reducing unemployment and ending the recession, and this argument may be striking home.

Washington Extra – swimming with the fishes

The U.S. economy continues to swim with the fishes – weekly unemployment claims are at a nine-month high and the director of the Congressional Budget Office says the unemployment rate won’t fall to around 5 percent until 2014. Not much in the way of economic sunshine today.

USA/President Barack Obama commented on the economic cloud before heading to Martha’s Vineyard where his family is taking their end-of-summer vacation.  

We’re wondering if the Secret Service will allow the First Family to frolic in the waters off the Massachusetts island given that several great white sharks were spotted close to the Cape Cod shore at the end of July. Remember, “Jaws” the movie was filmed on Martha’s Vineyard (it’s hard to write out the movie sound of the shark approaching, but you get the picture).

Washington economic indicator: political finger-pointing

How do you know the economy is souring?

One indicator that doesn’t come wrapped in a government report is political finger-pointing.

It’s an election year with a sluggish economy and so Republicans and Democrats want to make sure voters know it’s the other’s fault — or at the very least not their own fault.

Take a look at the response to the jobless data today which showed weekly unemployment benefit claims reached a nine-month high. OBAMA/