Analysis: Obama has options to aid economy but messaging key

WASHINGTON Thu Jun 9, 2011 3:16pm EDT

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a DNC event at Austin City Limits Moody Theater in Austin, Texas, May 10, 2011. REUTERS/Jim Young

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at a DNC event at Austin City Limits Moody Theater in Austin, Texas, May 10, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

Related Topics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama may still have a few plays left to spur flagging job growth, but he also needs to more effectively persuade Americans that he can fix an economy that many think is stuck in a deep rut.

Opinion polls show an increasing number of Americans disapprove of his handling of the economy, the nation's dominant concern with unemployment at 9.1 percent, which will be a defining factor in Obama's 2012 re-election campaign.

Potential Republican challengers have seized upon this, trying to portray the president as a failure in his stewardship of the economy.

But Obama has not exhausted all options to accelerate growth. Successfully crafting a significant budget compromise to raise the country's legal borrowing limit would help investor confidence, and might win him some political space to advance other measures to encourage hiring, such as a payroll tax cut for companies.

Getting Congress to approve three long-delayed free trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama would be a tangible achievement that could boost exports and could also improve strained relations with the business community.

Finally, a more effective effort to ease the housing foreclosure crisis -- which has so far defied the Obama administration's aid attempts -- would attack a major obstacle to a durable recovery.

But the immediate dip in Democrat Obama's approval ratings this week after a weak May jobs report exposes damaging skepticism over his stewardship of the economy.

He cannot afford to let this become a question of competency and must retool his economic message, although White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Thursday he did not expect the president to alter his approach.

"The president will get nowhere by telling the American people that the economy is better than they think it is," said William Galston, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution who advised former President Bill Clinton.

"He needs to set a tone of sober realism and bipartisanship," Galston said.


Part of the president's problem is that there are some things he cannot change. The United States suffered a severe recession caused by a financial crisis and these events have traditionally taken many years to heal.

"It takes a long time to turn the economy around and Obama has had very little honeymoon," said Diana Owen, an associate professor of political science at Georgetown University. "People are looking for instant gratification and the media are seeking instant answers."

That does not help the president, who has to run on his economic track record next year. Obama acknowledged on Tuesday Americans' frustration over the economy.

He ruled out a double-dip recession during a press conference at the White House but said that hiring remained too weak. He also voiced interest in seeking bipartisan agreement to continue some of the steps taken last year.

A senior administration official said on Thursday that the White House was considering a temporary cut in payroll taxes that employers pay on wages.

At the press conference, Obama mentioned payroll tax holidays, extending unemployment benefits and an R&D tax break as initiatives that had helped the economy.

With Republicans controlling the House of Representatives, any action to aid the economy or tackle the deficit needs their support.


But Obama is also under pressure from within the Democratic establishment to do a better job of talking about the economy.

"Voters do not think anyone knows how to or has the will to solve America's profound and persistent economic problems. Not the Democrats and certainly not the Republicans," Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg wrote.

However, hope has grown that talks led by Vice President Joe Biden may yield agreement on large spending cuts, phased in over time. Republicans and many Democrats say they will not agree lifting the United States' $14.3 trillion borrowing limit without deep spending cuts.

If a big deal was struck, it could give Obama room to push for an extension of a measure like the payroll tax holiday because it would aid his credibility on deficit discipline.

Without that, advancing any measure to lift hiring that adds to the short-term deficit, as a payroll tax holiday would, is likely to be a nonstarter with Republicans.

Public anxiety over the country's soaring deficit has sapped Obama's approval rating, polls show, and this could also undermine the benefits of any additional fiscal stimulus.

People are less inclined to spend extra money that the government has put in their pockets if they think the country cannot afford it and it will lead to higher future taxes.

Nonetheless, with the economy flagging, the Obama administration has got to be seen to take action.

"They're playing with a weaker hand now but I would advise them to play it anyway," said Galston.

(Editing by David Lawder)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (7)
j2289 wrote:
Obama is a FAILURE:
1. scamulus failed and added 1 Trillion to our debt
2. obamacare will fail; its unconstitutional; judges will throw it out and in 2013 voters will repeal it
3. job market is horrible thanks to obama
4. he’s had 30 months to create jobs and we still have 9.1% official unemployment…real unemployment is close to 20%.

Ask yourself: are you better off today than when obama took office?
Answer: overwhelmingly NO.
Solution: ABO = Anybody but obama. Nov 2012, kick out nobama and all tax and spend politicians.

Jun 09, 2011 7:07pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
fred5407 wrote:
I did not see putting price controls on gasoline and diesel fuel. I did not here him say we will become self sufficient in energy use. He is still playing politics because he still think that the US runs the world. We need stability, and not a glad handing president and congressmen who can’t get their moral act together. What a bunch of failure.

Jun 09, 2011 7:40pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
M.C.McBride wrote:
If I were an adviser to the President, I would say go city to city showing what the stimulus did. While in those cities, I would press managers of wealthy companies why they are not hiring in the US while hiring abroad. I would also ask consumers why they are buying merchandise from overseas.

I would then push for tariffs to close the budget gap while cutting all taxes on hiring.
For the republicans, create a flat tax on corporations. Slash wages and benefits for all members of the judicial branch and eliminate all barriers to entry for the legal profession.

Jun 09, 2011 10:11pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

Recommended Newsletters

Reuters U.S. Top News
A quick-fix on the day's news published with Reuters videos and award-winning news photography and delivered at your choice of one of four times during the day.
Reuters Deals Today
The latest Reuters articles on M&A, IPOs, private equity, hedge funds and regulatory updates delivered to your inbox each day.
Reuters Technology Report
Your daily briefing on the latest tech developments from around the world from Reuters expert tech correspondents.