The Note, 3/6/09: Job One — Obama touts stimulus, 25 jobs at a time — but can he keep pace with slide?

By Caitlin Taylor

Mar 6, 2009 7:48am

By RICK KLEIN Twenty-five down, 3,499,975 to go. A more than decent number of balls are floating in President Obama’s air, but only one bears watching. (Yes, bears.) New (bad) job numbers are out, and the president is touting jobs saved by the stimulus package, back in a purple state, again. From the White House, on the president’s trip Friday: “The President will deliver remarks at the Columbus Police Graduation Exercises. The 25 Columbus police recruits graduating Friday learned in January that instead of being sworn-in as officers, they would be let go. However, Mayor Michael Coleman announced last week that he would use money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to pay the recruits’ salaries so they could keep their jobs.” Yes, 25 jobs. Just wait until that new Arby’s opens out on Route 50. . . . On a policy level, how long before the Wall Street tumble and other awful economic news will force a major re-thinking of the Obama economic strategy? (Can you say, “Stimulus: The Sequel”?) On a political level, how long can the president muster the public support for his prescriptions, without tangible evidence that they’re working? (Can he get there without buy-in from economic commentators?) (And if he can’t stock his Cabinet, can he fix an economy?) Wait — the Columbus Dispatch says it’s actually 26 recruits. Speaking of numbers: “Unlike Obama’s last appearance in Columbus, at a Nov. 2 campaign rally that drew 60,000 people to the Statehouse lawn, the police graduation ceremony won’t be open to the public. The Aladdin Shrine Center holds up to 3,000 people,” the Dispatch’s Robert Vitale writes. (And greeting the president’s entourage in Columbus — from the front page of the Dispatch: ” ‘Joe the Plumber’ sues 3 former state officials.”)  This is rather clearly about the photo-op — putting the presidential stamp on an otherwise minor news event, to demonstrate government in action more dramatically even than a well-designed logo can. The Washington Post’s Wil Haygood sets the scene: “[Mayor] Coleman — who in recent years has announced a series of ambitious building projects, from downtown to the depressed east side — is under no illusion about what lies ahead,” he writes. And: “Columbus has averaged two police training classes per year in recent years. But Coleman announced this week that there will be no training class for the rest of this year.” The economic indicators these days include job numbers, the stock market, and those thinner-than-ever 401(k) statements. And they matter quite a bit — as perceptions reinforce realities, and a president pleads for patience amid a crumbling economic framework. “The level of the stock market matters a lot more now than before, for political as well as economic reasons,” Gerald Seib writes in his Wall Street Journal column. “Economically, it is a producer (or destroyer) of wealth for far more Americans than ever before. Politically, it represents a far more important barometer of the nation’s climate and psyche today than it does in normal times.” “Put another way, a drop in the stock market now has a real — not just a psychological — impact on the well-being of half of America’s households,” Seib continues. Nate Silver, at FiveThirtyEight.com: “The stock market is engaged in something of a pity party — the prevailing emotions being fear and loathing. It is concerned about policies which might be burdensome to equityholders in large corporations while perhaps nevertheless being boons to economic recovery.”  Robert Reich says blame isn’t fair: “The argument that Obama is somehow responsible for the collapse of Wall Street is absurd. First, every major policy that led to this collapse occurred under George W.’s watch (or, more accurately, his failure to watch). The housing and financial bubbles were created under Bush and exploded under Bush. The stock market began to collapse under Bush,” Reich writes for Salon.  But the news continues. . . . From The New York Times: “After months of breathtaking declines, this is what Wall Street has come to: Blue-chip companies, once considered safe investments and cornerstones of the economy, are akin to penny stocks,” Jack Healy writes. And The Washington Post: “The giants that only recently seemed like the unshakable foundations of the economy are faltering one after another. The girth that once seemed a source of strength now appears to be undermining them,” Steven Mufson writes. Who wants this image? “The government is seeking to resuscitate the nation’s crippled financial system by forging an alliance with the very outfits that most benefited from the bonanza preceding the collapse of the credit markets: hedge funds and private-equity firms,” David Cho reports in The Washington Post. “The initiative to revive the consumer lending business, outlined by officials this week, offers these wealthy investors a new chance to make sizable profits — but, thanks to the government, without the risk of massive losses.”  Any chance of a good day in the markets? “Stocks will get another test today when the government releases February job data. Economists estimate that payrolls shrank by 650,000 jobs last month and that the unemployment rate rose to 7.9%,” the Los Angeles Times’ Walter Hamilton writes.  Did someone get an early peek? ABC’s Karen Travers: “Vice President Joe Biden said today that when the Department of Labor announces Friday the number of jobs lost in February, ‘it may match or exceed January’ statistics.”  The White House reaches out to David Brooks — who’s not sold, but not giving up, either. “I’m still convinced the administration is trying to do too much too fast and that the hasty planning and execution of these complex policies will lead to untold problems down the road,” Brooks writes in his New York Times column. “Nonetheless, the White House made a case that was sophisticated and fact-based. These people know how to lead a discussion and set a tone of friendly cooperation.”  On the immediate political front — a touch of disorder. The Senate is crawling toward final passage of a $410 billion omnibus that’s being defined by its 8,500 earmarks. It may be last year’s business, but it will be President Obama’s signature on it, not President Bush’s. “Senate Republicans blocked a $410 billion omnibus spending measure on Thursday night, forcing Congressional Democrats to prepare a stopgap budget resolution to keep the federal government from shutting down,” The New York Times’ David M. Herszenhorn writes. “The ability of the diminished minority to delay the bill signaled growing unease in Congress, among Democrats and Republicans, over the levels of government spending in recent months and the staggering increase in the federal deficit.”  “Last night, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) canceled a final procedural vote that would have cleared the way for final passage and announced that debate will continue at least through Monday. Meanwhile, Reid said the Senate will consider further amendments, while he scoured for at least one more vote to reach the 60 needed to break a Republican-led filibuster,” Shailagh Murray writes in The Washington Post.  (He’s got 59 — where have you gone, Al Franken?) Budget worries: Per ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, members of Congress have no interest in limiting tax deductions for upper-income earners — a key part of paying for the president’s healthcare program. “The plan may not be dead-on-arrival — but it is pretty close. In my reporting across Capitol Hill today, I couldn’t find any strong support for the plan.”  I think we’re alone now: “Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was President Obama’s pick to pull us out of a recession, but nobody thought he’d have to do it by himself or without key staffers,” per the Politico write-up. “But as news leaked Thursday that top, expected nominees for Treasury posts were bowing out of the confirmation process, Geithner looked more alone than ever. Geithner’s top choice to be his deputy Treasury Secretary, Annette Nazareth, stepped aside, citing personal reasons. Geithner’s pick for undersecretary of international affairs at Treasury, Caroline Atkinson, also took her name out of the running for that job.”  Stephanopoulos: “The withdrawal of Nazareth, a former Securities and Exchange Commissioner, may further complicate Geithner’s effort to build his staff amidst the greatest economic crisis the nation has faced in decades. A Democratic source tells me that Nazareth faced resistance on Capitol Hill for being ‘too lax a regulator’ at the SEC.”  Another one: “Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, said last night that he will not leave his television career to become the U.S. surgeon general and urged whoever gets the job to raise its profile as the nation grapples with how to reform health care,” Michael D. Shear and Howard Kurtz report in The Washington Post. “It really came down to a sense of timing more than anything else,” Gupta told Larry King. “This job that we have collectively takes us away from our children. . . . I just didn’t feel like I should do that now.” As for healthcare: If every day is like Day One . . . “In a White House session that brought disparate factions together, Obama elicited promises of cooperation from lawmakers and stakeholders who in the past have been at loggerheads over how to fix the system. He and others emphasized areas of agreement and said they would work amicably on their differences,” USA Today’s Richard Wolf reports.  Some give: “He indicated for the first time that he was open to compromise on details of the proposal he put forth in the 2008 campaign,” The New York Times’ Robert Pear and Sheryl Gay Stolberg write.  As for the days to come: “The largely symbolic event also showcased the political maneuvering — and potential conflicts — that is intensifying as the president moves forward on his reform initiative,” Noam Levey reports in the Los Angeles Times. “Liberal activists stepped up their campaign against the insurance industry, which many of them blame for scuttling the Clinton administration’s efforts to reshape the healthcare system in the early ’90s. Several Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, pointedly cautioned the president about reaching too far to expand government’s role in healthcare.”  “Signaling the enormous political task ahead, lawmakers and advocacy groups that have been preparing for this moment for months waged an early skirmish over one of the most contentious aspects of the health insurance fight: whether to create a Medicare-style public insurance plan for people under 65,” The Boston Globe’s Lisa Wangsness reports.  Attention GOP aides — time to hit send: “Obama’s proposals for many hundreds of billions in additional spending on universal health care, universal postsecondary education, a massive overhaul of the energy economy, and other liberal programs seem grandiose and unaffordable,” Stuart Taylor writes in his National Journal column. “With little in the way of offsetting savings likely to materialize, the Obama agenda would probably generate trillion-dollar deficits with no end in sight, or send middle-class taxes soaring to record levels, or both. All this from a man who told the nation last week that he doesn’t ‘believe in bigger government’ and who promised tax cuts for 95 percent of Americans.”  Welcome back: “Eliot Spitzer is returning to Washington, D.C., but this time as an investor in the commercial real-estate market,” The Wall Street Journal’s Alex Frangos reports. “The former New York governor, who resigned in disgrace a year ago after getting caught patronizing a prostitute in a Washington hotel, has purchased a prominent office building blocks from the White House through his father’s real-estate company. . . . The building is one block from the Mayflower Hotel, the location of Mr. Spitzer’s tryst, which led to his undoing.”  A feisty Justice: “One month after her surgery for pancreatic cancer, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Thursday she expects to be on the Supreme Court for several more years. In an interview, she also vividly recalled why, on her second day back on the bench, she attended President Obama’s televised speech to a joint session of Congress,” USA Today’s Joan Biskupic reports.  “First, I wanted people to see that the Supreme Court isn’t all male,” Ginsburg said. “I also wanted them to see I was alive and well, contrary to that senator who said I’d be dead within nine months.”

On that senator: “While the Democrats are preoccupied with Senator Roland W. Burris and his ties to a tainted Illinois governor, the Republicans are trying to rid themselves of Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky, the former baseball star who clearly has little use for some colleagues and party leaders, and who keeps exhibiting what one senator calls ‘behavior issues,’ ” Mark Leibovich writes in The New York Times. “Key Republicans are gently (or not gently enough) trying to dissuade Mr. Bunning from seeking re-election in 2010 out of concern that his paltry fund-raising, declining approval ratings and irascible conduct have made him something between vulnerable and unelectable.”  The Kicker: “He’s like any other president. . . . He’s a politician and he’s got to do what politicians do.” — Rev. Jeremiah Wright, like any other pastor.  “Obviously it brought great joy for a great period of time.” — Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, on his years in government service.  Bookmark the link below to get The Note’s daily morning analysis:
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