For The Eighth Time, Obama Pivots To The Economy

Time to "pivot to the economy" again.

Obama Oval Office Feet On Desk

With gun control dead until the elections in 2014 at least,  immigration seemingly  on life support as the House makes clear that it will be taking its sweet time on the issue, and other parts of the President’s second term agenda seemingly in disarray, the President is preparing to do something he’s done many times before:

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s push to restart an economic conversation with the American public this week is a clear indication of how often world events, his Republican adversaries and his own competing agenda have conspired to knock him off that subject.

It may also be a reflection of how little the president — any president — can do to alter the country’s economic trajectory while he is faced with global forces that shape the financial system in the United States, as well as a domestic political system that has ground to a standstill, particularly over economic issues like taxes and spending.

The new public relations effort, which begins with a major address Wednesday and as many as six economic-themed speeches over the next two months, is intended to give Mr. Obama a chance to claim credit for the improving economy and to lift his rhetoric beyond the Beltway squabbles that have often consumed his presidency.

But the speeches will not contain big new proposals, senior administration officials said Monday, speaking to reporters on the condition that they not be quoted. Nor are they designed to break the hardening stalemate on economic issues between a president and his Republican adversaries in Congress. Instead, they will repackage economic proposals that the president has offered for years — sometimes in new formats, the officials said.

“The point is to chart a course for where America needs to go,” Dan Pfeiffer, the president’s senior adviser, said in an e-mail to the president’s supporters Sunday night. Officials said that course has improved significantly during Mr. Obama’s administration, giving Americans a sense of stability, if not complete economic security.

Mr. Obama’s adversaries on Monday were quick to point out that the president has frequently launched similar efforts to redefine or restate his economic agenda, often accompanied by rhetoric from his advisers about a new direction or emphasis. Most have run headfirst into opposition on Capitol Hill.

In the fall of 2011, Mr. Obama addressed a joint session of Congress to unveil a $447 billion jobs bill that has not passed. In 2012, as his re-election campaign neared its end, Mr. Obama renewed his vision with a 20-page economic plan. In his State of the Union speech in February, the president refocused on the economy after beginning his second term focused on gun control, immigration, climate change and gay rights.

And just this past May, Mr. Obama announced he was restarting his “Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour,” with stops in Baltimore and Austin.

“They’ve been saying the same thing for four years,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader in the Senate. “The previous Democrat Congress passed his agenda — Obamacare, the stimulus, thousands of pages of regulations — and the economy is treading water. More taxes, more regulation, and more failures to unleash American energy jobs are not the answer.”

Republicans say Mr. Obama should have spent less time passing health care legislation early in his presidency and more time improving the economic fortunes of Americans.

“Memo to Obama and the White House: speeches don’t create jobs,” said Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

Senior administration officials on Monday conceded that the president was partly to blame for the Washington conversation veering away from the economic issues that many Americans believe are the most important. One official said that it was incumbent on Mr. Obama to shift the overall focus of the debate in Washington, and that has not happened.

In some cases, the White House has chosen to spend its time and political capital on other topics. Mr. Obama made it clear early this year that he wanted Congress to make a major push to pass an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system. The president also responded to the shooting of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School by calling for broad new gun laws. His allies argue that the health care law and an immigration overhaul will help the economy, and they blame Republicans for blocking many of Mr. Obama’s economic policies.

But officials also criticized Republicans, especially in the House, for seizing on what the White House says are overblown scandals: the targeting of nonprofit groups at the Internal Revenue Service and the actions of officials in the wake of the attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

And they noted that some of the distractions in Washington have been out of Mr. Obama’s control. When oil spilled from the Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico in the summer of 2010, it consumed the White House for weeks. Hurricane Sandy’s destruction late last year and the tornadoes in Oklahoma City in May required presidential attention, as did tensions in the Middle East. Even the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case prompted presidential remarks on Friday.

As the Washington Examiner’s Conn Carroll notes, this isn’t the first time that the Obama Administration has “refocused” on the economy. Indeed, this exact same thing has happened seven times before, each time seemingly after some other political initiative has failed or after some outside event like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. More often than not, though, this “pivot” to the economy has ended up being little more than an excuse for speech making and partisan rhetoric from the President about Republican obstructionism and other such things. The real, question, as Walter Russell Mead wonders, is whether this pivot will be any different from all the others:

That seems unlikely; this White House grows more cautious as time goes by. And as we’ve noted, there’s a certain tendency to see carefully crafted speeches as a substitute for action. It seems sadly likely that rather than announcing brave new ideas and making bold and sweeping proposals, President Obama will work to rally supporters behind the conventional set of Democratic talking points.

As a strategy, it’s unlikely to change GOP minds and votes. Many presidents have tried to turn public opinion by barnstorming the country; few succeed. President Obama faces an uphill climb. The President’s Republican opponents in the House of Representatives are long past worrying what the President says about them. If hot White House rhetoric couldn’t budge Congress on gun control, we don’t see much chance that words from the bully pulpit, carefully crafted and powerfully delivered as they may be, will stampede the GOP into endorsing the President’s economic program.

In other words, this “pivot to the economy” won’t be much different from the last seven in  that it will be more of an excuse for partisan rhetoric than any effort to actually come up with policies that could help the economy. Ironically, though, this pivot may be coming at a time when it may not even matter very much. While economic growth remains far below where it really ought to be, there’s also plenty of good economic news out there. Job growth for the past several months has been steady and, dare I say, at least somewhat healthy. The housing market seems to be moving in a positive direction. The stock market keeps going up, although it’s fairly clear that this is more directly related to the current direction of Federal Reserve Board policy than anything fantastic about the economy itself. In other words, the economy seems to be doing okay and, most importantly, it’s rather apparent that there’s not very much that they Federal Government can do in terms of positive action that will actually improve the economy. On the other hand, there are more than a few things that the President could propose doing that might help the economy, but they all involve doing less or putting political capital behind something like comprehensive tax reform, neither of which seem to be things that this President or his allies in the Democratic Party are interested in doing.

So, in the end, I’m not expecting much of anything from this “pivot” to the economy other than the expectation that it will peter out sometime by September or so at the latest, and that we’ll see yet another “pivot” when the 2014 election cycle kicks in this time next year. That’s all the past five years or so has really been it seems, smoke and mirrors but very little in terms of anything constructive.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Economics and Business, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Jenos Idanian says:

    It’s another Obama tell. He “pivots” whenever 1) he needs to distract people from his failures, or 2) he needs to distract people from scandals.

    In this case, it could be both.

    For those paying attention, the IRS scandal just reached IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins, one of two political appointments in the IRS.

  2. C. Clavin says:

    “…On the other hand, there are more than a few things that the President could propose doing that might help the economy, but they all involve doing less or putting political capital behind something like comprehensive tax reform…”

    Oh yeah…I almost forgot…cutting taxes is the magical answer to everything. Well that…and unicorn tears.
    After all…cutting taxes to historic lows worked so well for Bush43…who oversaw a 9% contraction of the economy in a single quarter.
    In. A. Single. Quarter.

  3. C. Clavin says:

    If you were really concerned with the economy you would recomend hiring public sector workers at the same rate as Republican Presidents have when faced with a recession.
    But you aren’t.
    You are getting the exact economy you want.

  4. edmondo says:

    Wake me when he starts talking about school uniforms. That’s usually the tell that the occupant in the White House has totally given up and is just marking off the days until the next inauguration

  5. C. Clavin says:

    “…For those paying attention to the far right wing entertainment complex, the IRS scandal just reached IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins, one of two political appointments in the IRS…”

    Fixed that for you so it would be far more accurate.

  6. Mr. Prosser says:

    “As a strategy, it’s unlikely to change GOP minds and votes. Many presidents have tried to turn public opinion by barnstorming the country; few succeed. President Obama faces an uphill climb. The President’s Republican opponents in the House of Representatives are long past worrying what the President says about them.” The president has no intention of changing Republican minds or votes and he has long given up worrying what they say about him. I also would not use the word pivot which can mean anything up to a 360 degree turn. The president is more returning to course after moving around another obstacle.

  7. JohnMcC says:

    If the point of the Original Post is that the current administration has had a fairly reliable, constant emphasis on it’s ideas on the economy, the word “pivot” seems a peculiar choice.

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    the current administration has had a fairly reliable, constant emphasis on it’s ideas on the economy

    Really? I think that “peripatetic” would be a better description.

  9. Davebo says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    How so?

  10. Tillman says:

    If it seems old, it’s because Republicans haven’t let it happen.

    They’re not even negotiating anymore, even with a President that offers the middle as his opening bid. Instead we have a ludicrous number of bills to repeal Obamacare.

  11. Tyrell says:

    @C. Clavin: There are so many spying operations going that you can’t even keep count – from the USPS to the FTA (federal tricycle authority). You have agencies spying on each other.
    Tax reform does not necessarily mean tax cuts . I would certainly like a half page form and avoid having to pay $200 to a tax preparer to find a $5 deduction. Special interest groups have vested interests in keeping the current system. Groups such as tax services, pencil companies, calculator manufacturers, computer software companies, and companies that make alcoholic beverages.

  12. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian: I don’t know what’s more entertaining about Jenos’ breathless announcement about the IRS “scandal” — that drunken lunatic Peggy Noonan suddenly discovered a brand new fact that she’s already written about months ago, correctly noting that it was no big deal, or that Jenos is so stupid that as soon as talk radio takes the Magic Dolphin Lady’s astonishing “news” and spreads it around, he can’t wait to repeat it on line.

    Hey, Noonan is a drunk old crank, but at least she gets paid lots of money for spreading this manure. Jenos — he’s just a tool.

  13. wr says:

    @Tyrell: ” I would certainly like a half page form and avoid having to pay $200 to a tax preparer to find a $5 deduction”

    Great. It’s called th 1040EZ, and it will be available at every post office, unless the Republicans close down the government printing office or the postal system. Knock yourself out.

  14. David M says:

    @Tyrell:

    The GOP also has quite a few anti-tax fanatics who oppose any steps to make filing taxes easier.

  15. bandit says:

    No he’s been focused like a laser for the last 5 years it’s just that his total comprehension of economics is receiving a check from the gov’t.

  16. Ben Wolf says:

    @Doug Mataconis

    Ironically, though, this pivot may be coming at a time when it may not even matter very much. While economic growth remains far below where it really ought to be, there’s also plenty of good economic news out there.

    When Q2 numbers come out I’ll remind you that you wrote this. Until then I’d recommend 30 year Treasurys and a BMA swap to hedge, because I’m expecting growth in the 1.0 – 1.5% range. Got word a few days ago Goldman is estimating growth as low as 0.8%.

  17. JKB says:

    it’s rather apparent that there’s not very much that they Federal Government can do in terms of positive action that will actually improve the economy

    Au Contraire, under the rule of law, what the federal government can do is, of course, limited by the slowness of legislation and bureaucrat implementation. But we are now under Obama rule where law and regulation enforcement is at the whim of El Presidente. So Obama could simply order a reduction of enforcement of say EPA regulations, Labor rules, even federal minimum wage laws. What ever he wants. We have precedent. So really if the economy is not improving it is because Obama doesn’t want it to.

  18. Tyrell says:

    @wr: Well, our local post office is open three days a week – until 12:00pm.
    There seem to be a lot of people buying money orders these days.

  19. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    For those paying attention, the IRS scandal just reached IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins, one of two political appointments in the IRS.

    But, what about Benghazi?

  20. al-Ameda says:

    @wr:

    Hey, Noonan is a drunk old crank, but at least she gets paid lots of money for spreading this manure. Jenos — he’s just a tool.

    If Noonan took to wearing a hoodie, Zimmerman would start following her.

  21. superdestroyer says:

    @C. Clavin:

    PUtting people on the public payroll is a long term disaster (just ask Detroit). It adds permanent costs to the goverment leders while only providing short term benefits. Eventually taxes will have to be raised to fund the public sector employees and it decouples more people from the private sector.

    What everyone should admit is that there is little the government can do to create private sector jobs in the short term. However, a less complicated tax code, even if it remains revenue neutral, would be a long term benefit.

  22. superdestroyer says:

    @Mr. Prosser:

    What the Democrats never seem to want to do is offer something to the Republicans that they really want in order to get something that the Democrats really want. However, what Democrats seem to want is to get whatever they want without giving anything to the Republicans.

    The Democrats know that every demographic trend is in their favor and thus, the Democrats just seem to want to wait until they get a lock of politics instead of doing anything before then.

  23. C. Clavin says:

    For a far less ridiculous take on this, than Doug’s, take the time to read this.

    http://nymag.com/news/features/republican-congress-2013-7/

  24. C. Clavin says:

    @ Superdestroyer…and anyone else for that matter…

    Show me a similar economy that has achieved significant growth while slashing the public sector. Otherwise you are spinning fantasies…a radical experiment with no basis in history.
    Not a very Conservative approach.
    And for a blatant racist like Superdooper…the fact that its OK for every President he supported to add Public Sector jobs…but not Obama…is telling.

  25. wr says:

    @bandit: Oh, I get it! Obama gets gummint checks… ’cause he’s on welfare. ‘Cause he’s a ni**er. Man, you are America’s answer to Oscar Wilde.

  26. Tyrell says:

    Do I feel another stimulus package coming on? Like the last one which gave us these monumental job creation projects: $400, 000 for a university study of Twitter, $3 million for a turtle crossing, $500,000 for a teapot museum in North Carolina. See Readers Digest, “Thats Outrageous” for examples of government wasting our money.
    Here is something else outrageous that the president needs to do something about:
    high gas prices, and food prices are just as ridiculous. $1.75 for a can soft drink, $2 for a candy bar, $4 for a bag of Doritos. Yet my pay has not increased in five years. Many people are working at jobs that pay less. Is that this economic recovery we keep hearing about? How about a break for the middle class working people, the ones who are paying the taxes to run this country? Where is our break at, Mr.President?
    “They call me Bocephus”

  27. C. Clavin says:

    Actually Tyrell the President has cut your taxes.
    If you want help for the middle class…it’s your Republican friends who are preventing it from happening. Stop voting against your interests.
    You are being used by a bunch of politicians totally disinterested in your situation.

  28. bandit says:

    @wr: Good projection

  29. Tyrell says:

    @C. Clavin: Actually I have been a loyal member of the Southern wing of the Democrat Party since Johnson. I voted Republican twice and that was a big mistake. I have voted independent a few times. Few people in the south actually have switched to register Republican. The state and especially local offices are still largely Democrat.
    I do not buy those bogus government economic reports that are supposed to placate and make a gullible populace feel happy. I go by my personal “pain” index : price of gas, price of a can soft drink, price of tomatoes ($2 a pound!! they were 3 pounds for a dollar), snack bag $1!!. Cotton candy – don’t even go there

  30. C. Clavin says:

    “…I go by my personal “pain” index : price of gas, price of a can soft drink, price of tomatoes ($2 a pound!! they were 3 pounds for a dollar), snack bag $1!!. Cotton candy – don’t even go there…”

    Well the President can do essentially nothing about any of that.
    What the President can do is invest in infrastructure and education and try to create an environment for growth. Republicans have thwarted all of these efforts at every turn.
    On another front; the PPACA appears to be lowering health care costs which helps businesses and families. Just from the aspect of free-riders the PPACA will save families around $900 a year in premium costs. Obamacare will also make it far easier for entreprenuers to break out on their own. For some reason Republicans think this is bad…even though it was their idea.

  31. Caj says:

    President Obama has always been worried about the economy. It’s his enemies on the right who couldn’t give a flying fig about it. The worse things become in the country the better they like it. They have done and will continue to do nothing that helps move the country forward, especially where jobs are concerned. Always thinking about the next presidential election and how they can lie, cheat and steal to win back the White House! We the people are not even on their radar.
    It’s all about power for them. To push an agenda that would take us back to the land of the dinosaur!

  32. bill says:

    c’mon kids, even npr was kinda dogging him about this “campaign”! thx clavin for blaming bush right out of the gate…..i was wondering how far down the page i’d need to scroll before seeing that!
    fyi- it’s year 5 and one of these years he’s going to have to be responsible for something.

  33. C. Clavin says:

    @ bill…
    he is…he’s responsible for rescuing the economy from the death spiral bush left it in.
    there are attributes and relations. attributes are fine…but meaningless without context…or relative to something. that something is what he began with. sure…on it’s face the economy still has some weaknesses. relative to Obama’s starting point it’s going gang busters. there is an entire political party that wants to pretend 2007 and 2008 never happened. sorry…you don’t get to do that. nice try though.

  34. C. Clavin says:

    another way to look at the “8 pivots”, that this post started with, is that the economy has been part of Obama’s message consistently for the entire time…going all the way back to the stimulus in early 2009 that saved or created a couple million jobs.
    or you could just try to make political hay.

  35. al-Ameda says:

    @Tyrell:

    There seem to be a lot of people buying money orders these days.

    And the majority of them are part of the 47% who voted for Romney.

  36. john425 says:

    Approve the Keystone pipeline, increase R&D write-off allowances, reduce corporate tax rates when they repatriate overseas profits and become honest.

    Too bad Democrats oppose all of the above.

  37. @john425:

    increase R&D write-off allowances

    Isn’t the government subsidizing risky R&D what we’re supposed to be upset about with the Solyndra thing? Crony capitalism doesn’t become any better just because it’s the coal industry instead of the green energy industry.

  38. C. Clavin says:

    “…Approve the Keystone pipeline, increase R&D write-off allowances, reduce corporate tax rates when they repatriate overseas profits and become honest…”

    The keystone pipeline? That’s a joke, right?
    Reduce corporate tax rates? They are already at historic lows. How low do we have to go before we hit the magic number? Large US Corporations are paying an average effective rate of 12.6%. Tell me what you want them to pay? Nothing? Would they start hiring then?
    Of course not…they need to see DEMAND. It has nothing to do with already low taxes.

  39. An Interested Party says:

    Good projection

    Oh really? Than perhaps you would care to explain your “economics is receiving a check from the gov’t” comment…

    Here is something else outrageous that the president needs to do something about:
    high gas prices, and food prices are just as ridiculous.

    Hmm…how, exactly, is this president or any president able to help with that?

    fyi- it’s year 5 and one of these years he’s going to have to be responsible for something.

    Indeed, pop, so when are you going to lay some blame on Republicans for their failure to do anything positive in Congress…or perhaps you think the President can just wave a magic wand and do whatever he likes…

  40. bill says:

    @C. Clavin: um, you can’t prove a negative. and just what has he done anyway? don’t bother- if you read the article you’d realize that a sitting prez has little to do with the economy he serves in. and obama has indeed proven he has little to do with anything.