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* President's approval rating now at about 50 percent
* Democrats, Republicans, fret about 'Obama's economy'
By Thomas Ferraro and Emily Kaiser
WASHINGTON, Nov 25 U.S. President Barack Obama
is paying a price for a recession that began before he took
office, and fellow Democrats have started to balk at his
legislative agenda and demand greater efforts to create jobs.
Some liberal Democrats even want Obama to replace his
economic team while moderates fear his bid to overhaul
healthcare and stem global warming -- two top priorities -- may
mean more fiscal hard times, at least in the short term.
In one sign of the angst on Capitol Hill, a group of black
Democratic lawmakers last week temporarily blocked a bill to
tighten financial regulation, another Obama priority, signaling
they believe more help is urgently needed for the unemployed.
"There's a lot of anxiety among Democrats," said Anne
Mathias of Concept Capital Washington Research Group, a private
firm that analyzes Congress for institutional investors.
Said Mathias, "There is a sense that the president's agenda
doesn't match what people think should be happening" --
focusing on the U.S. jobless rate, which hit a 26-year high of
10.2 percent last month.
One year after Obama was elected with 53 percent of the
popular vote on a message of "hope and change," double-digit
unemployment is sowing fear and doubt, even among those who
voted for him.
With his once lofty approval rating down to about 50
percent, Obama is taking a hit for a downturn that could cost
Democrats seats in next year's congressional election. The
party holding the White House almost always loses seats in the
next mid-term election.
Compounding problems for Democrats are polls that show the
public has begun to blame them nearly as much as they do
Republicans for the recession that started in December 2007, a
year before the end of the Bush administration.
High unemployment has helped sustain public fury over
bailouts for Wall Street firms, fueling the anger of voters and
lawmakers toward the Federal Reserve and Obama's Treasury
Department, which have led the financial rescue effort.
'BOOS AND CRIES OF DERISION'
Some lawmakers have gone as far as to call on Treasury
Secretary Timothy Geithner to resign. Others have championed
legislation to strip the Fed of its authority to regulate banks
and open up its monetary policy decisions to audits.
To be sure, the economy has begun to grow again and Wall
Street has fared better. Since Obama took office, the Standard
& Poor's 500 stock index is up some 37 percent. Bank profits
have surged, helped by massive infusions of public money and
government guarantees. Bankers' bonuses are set to jump, too.
Yet that has made it hard for Obama to shake the perception
that his administration is more interested in bailing out rich
bankers than alleviating the pain among the unemployed.
Scrambling to demonstrate concern, Obama will host a jobs
forum on Dec. 3 to explore ways to get people back to work.
Plenty of people are dissatisfied, scared, even angry.
Geithner, a key player in the drive to turn around the
economy, is catching fire from across the political spectrum.
"You have failed," Republican Representative Kevin Brady
told Geithner in asking him to step down at a Nov. 19
Democratic Representative Peter DeFazio has also called for
Geithner's resignation and has said many other lawmakers think
White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers should also go.
"When you mention either Geithner or Larry Summers ...
there are boos and cries of derision," DeFazio told MSNBC in
"I think there's a growing consensus in the (House
Democratic) caucus we need a new economic team that cares more
about jobs, Main Street and the American people than it does
about Wall Street and huge (executive) bonuses," DeFazio said.
PUSHING FOR JOBS
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is expected to take some heat on
Dec. 3, when he testifies at a Senate hearing to consider
confirming him to a second four-year term.
Last week, House Financial Services Committee Chairman
Barney Frank abruptly postponed a vote on a bill to tighten of
regulation of the financial industry, citing concerns by the
congressional black caucus.
Representative Maxine Waters, a member of the caucus and
Frank's committee, said: "The recession has created a unique
systemic risk that threatens all parts of the African-American
community, including the poor and the middle class."
While the White House promises new efforts to create jobs
it insists it is not cooking up a second stimulus package.
Republicans have called the $787 billion economic stimulus
plan passed at Obama's request earlier this year a failure, and
will pounce on any new big spending requests.
Congressional Democratic leaders are scrambling to come up
with their own jobs package likely to include tax relief,
stepped up spending on transportation and another extension of
Senator Byron Dorgan, a member of the Democratic
leadership, said: "Jobs has to be at the top of the agenda. The
economy casts a shadow over all other issues.
"A lot of people are losing their jobs and hope. I'm not
saying healthcare is not important, but we can work on more
than one issue at a time," he said.
(Editing by Alan Elsner)
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