The Obama Economy

Fred Barnes
The Weekly Standar

The Obama administration is 0-for-3 in meeting economic expectations. In 2009, President Obama and his advisers believed the bountiful stimulus package would give the economy a strong jolt. It didn’t, and still hasn’t. In 2010, Obama declared Recovery Summer and predicted a surge in employment. The economy lost 283,000 jobs over the summer. This year, Obama expected a significant ratcheting up of jobs and growth. There’s been a ratcheting down.

The White House always has an excuse. Obama’s economic policies are never at fault. The problem in 2009, according to Obama? The economy was in worse shape than he’d feared when he took office. In 2010, economic adviser Christina Romer said the dip in jobs was unexpected. No doubt it was, but that’s a lame explanation. And Obama stubbornly refused to express regret for having proclaimed Recovery Summer in the first place.

Now, two years after the recession officially ended, the excuses for economic stagnation and puny job growth are stale and implausible. Obama didn’t offer any in an economic speech in Toledo a few hours after bad job numbers for May were released last week. Romer’s replacement, Austan Goolsbee, dismissed the 9.1 percent jobless rate as a bump “along the road to recovery.” House Democratic whip Steny Hoyer blamed the Bush administration—really, he did.

Yet Obama labors on as if his policies are working, only a bit more slowly than he’d anticipated. In two and a half years in the White House, he appears to have learned nothing about what stirs the economy and produces jobs and growth. Evidence of failure, like 1.8 percent growth in the first quarter of 2011, matters little. Rather than a midterm course correction, Obama wants more of the same, lots more.

And he’s not reticent about saying so. Obama’s desire to raise taxes is undiminished. He’s obsessed with the notion that more tax revenues can be wrung from rich people with money to spare. In Obamacare, he’s already got a hike in the Medicare tax. Last week he told House Democrats he won’t tolerate another extension of the current tax rates for high earners (more than $250,000 a year). If he had his way, the top rate on individual income would be 45 percent. Oblivious to economic history, he doesn’t see a rising tax burden as a disincentive to entrepreneurship, investment in job-creating enterprises, and a booming economy.

It’s not just Obama. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner spoke last week to Republican House freshmen. One Republican summarized his message as “revenues, revenues, revenues.” Obama, by the way, told Democrats he’ll insist on a tax increase as part of any deal on raising the debt limit.

Obama’s economic panacea is government spending. If you thought the meager results from the stimulus would change his mind, you’re wrong. He told House Republicans that he favors “investing” in the economy. Republicans drew the reasonable conclusion he was talking about more spending by Washington.

Obama was clear about this in his April budget speech. “I will not sacrifice the core investments we need to grow and create jobs,” he said. “We’ll invest in medical research. We will invest in clean energy technology. We’ll invest in new roads and airports and broadband access. We’ll invest in education. We will invest in job training. We will do what we need to do to compete, and we will win the future.”

The president wasn’t referring to the private sector. He once told a group of money managers that incentives for private investment were old hat. His administration’s massive spending on clean energy, environmental technology, and green jobs, he said, would attract a wave of private investment sufficient to spur growth. So relax, prosperity is on the way.

Whether by design or happenstance, President Obama is the greatest proponent of crony capitalism since FDR proposed cartels under the National Recovery Act. He does big favors for corporate supplicants and recipients of government subsidies while largely ignoring small business. His pet in the business community is Jeff Immelt of General Electric, which relies heavily on federal contracts and paid no taxes in 2010. His nominee for commerce secretary is John Bryson, whose company, BrightSource, is propped up by government subsidies. Obama’s aides are now touting the bailout of General Motors as one of his greatest achievements. Chrysler, not so much.

Obama is a regulatory zealot, even as the administration is supposedly weeding out damaging regulations. (As you might expect, they’ve found few.) At his meeting with Repu blicans last week, Obama was informed of a statement by Lisa Jackson, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, that EPA adopts policies without taking their economic impact into account—and does so on purpose.

The Republican who brought up the issue, Shelley Capito of West Virginia, got nowhere. Obama seemed dubious Jackson had really said this. Capito said Jackson had told her so, face to face. Obama’s response was vague, but he gave no ground.

Even where Obama seemed to agree with Republicans, he didn’t really. The president is a master of lip service. When Republicans mentioned free trade agreements, medical liability reform, and cutting the corporate tax rate, the president said amen. He’s with them. But there’s always some reason he can’t act. On trade, for instance, Obama is waiting for Congress to pass assistance to alleged victims of foreign competition before pushing to ratify deals with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. It’s a sop to unions, nothing more.

There’s a lesson here for Republicans, and a huge opportunity. That Obama’s policies are in large part responsible for the weak recovery and high unemployment is beyond dispute. Yet Republicans haven’t made the case effectively enough that Obama’s decisions are directly to blame.

They need to. The economy is languishing, joblessness is stuck at an abnormally high rate, the housing market remains in decline, the deficit will exceed $1 trillion for every year of Obama’s term, the national debt is north of $14 trillion, and markets are anxious. There’s a connection between our troubled economy and Barack Obama. If Republicans drive home the link, they’ll oust him and win big in 2012. It’s as simple as that.

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