There in Allentown: Obama Agenda on Brink Over Jobs

By Gorman Gorman

Dec 4, 2009 8:18am

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: Can one little (big) number overwhelm a White House messaging machine?

The new unemployment figures out Friday may cause some quiet celebration among economists. Early estimates suggest November figures will show between 100,000 and 130,000 fewer jobs in November, significantly better than October's 190,000.

But at some point it's got to go from not getting worse as quickly as it's been getting, to actually getting better.

Until that point, this will be a presidency, if not an economy, on the brink — and the White House knows it.

No brief Rose Garden statement to accompany the jobs numbers Friday — think a full-on, we-get-it moment, in Allentown, Pa. Then comes a major speech on the economy Tuesday, to build on Thursday's jobs summit.

Of the many contradictions facing President Obama, the disconnects over jobs — an economy that's growing, though you can't feel it; the critique over spending too much, but also over not doing enough, fast enough — will be the biggest threats to his leadership. Until they aren't.

Some day, perhaps, these Friday's won't be dreaded by Democrats.

Until then — the upshot of a week where the White House may be getting its wish, of a turn to the economy as the top issue:

"President Obama's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan over the objections of fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill is straining a relationship already struggling under the weight of an administration agenda that some Democratic lawmakers fear is placing them in a politically vulnerable position," Carl Hulse and Adam Nagourney write in The New York Times.

"The result has been a subtle shift in which Democrats in Congress are becoming less deferential to the White House, making clear that Mr. Obama will not always be able to count on them to fall into line and highlighting how Mr. Obama's expansive ambitions are running up against political realities…. Democrats now face the prospect of enacting a health care bill that Republicans are using to paint them as fiscally irresponsible and intent on extending the government's reach deeper into the economy and personal health decisions."

The even broader implications — Fortune's Nina Easton, on "The End of Audacity": "As it turns out, this financial crisis was not the call to bold action that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said shouldn't 'go to waste.' Quite the opposite: if he doesn't want his presidency to be held hostage by a string of nail-biter votes in Congress, Obama needs to recognize that he overestimated the public's appetite for taxpayer-funded solutions."

With apologies to his left… "It is not going to be possible for us to have a huge second stimulus, because frankly, we just don't have the money," the president told USA Today's Richard Wolf and the Detroit Free Press' Justin Hyde.

Literally feeling pain: "I am painfully aware of how tough the situation is," the president said in that interview. "Michelle and I have family members who are out of work."

Not much that really can be done, under these limitations: "President Obama's jobs summit was aimed at producing ideas to battle a surging unemployment problem exacting ever greater economic and political toll, but the event only highlighted the tough dilemma he confronts," Michael A. Fletcher writes in The Washington Post. "Obama says he does not have the money for the plan many of his liberal supporters say packs the biggest employment punch — direct federal investment in job creation. Instead, he came close to embracing a to-do list for the private sector that sounded rather familiar: weatherization, small-business incentives, regulatory and other help for exporters, and tax credits for employers who hire new workers."

Waiting there in Allentown, greeting the president Friday: "When President Barack Obama launches a multicity tour Friday to take Main Street's temperature, he will likely get a cool reception from business leaders and workers here who say he hasn't delivered," Elizabeth Williamson writes in The Wall Street Journal.

"Swing voters in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley helped Mr. Obama win this pivotal, populous state. But the region's jobless rate inched up another half percentage point in October to 9.8%. About 41,000 people are out of work, the highest number since 1984. Small businesses that power the economy here are starved for credit and laying people off. Stimulus dollars for roads, bridges, schools and social services are mired in Washington and state bureaucracy. … people here joke that Allentown was first on Mr. Obama's itinerary because it starts with A, not because of any stimulus success stories."

Spencer Soper, in the Allentown Morning Call: "There was no hard news from Thursday's summit. Obama did not announce any sweeping initiatives, nor did he make bold promises. Instead, he sought to convince attendees that his policies helped save the national economy from a free fall and that government can only do so much to reverse the trend of rising joblessness." 

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, bracketing with an op-ed in Friday's Morning Call: "President Obama may be willing to offer families asking, 'Where are the jobs?' a shoulder to cry on, but only Republicans are providing answers and a responsible blueprint for action."

The White House focus on jobs has been a "belated recognition by Barack Obama that he was losing the unemployment debate," Walter Shapiro writes, at Politics Daily. "Not only is the president suffering from the ravages of a depressed economy, but he is also being blamed for squandering taxpayer money in an effort to fix it."

"Mr. Obama's jobs event captured the political and policy vise now squeezing the president and his party at the end of his first year," The New York Times' Jackie Calmes writes. "Both the domestic and the military demands on the administration are raising costs unanticipated when Mr. Obama took office, even as pressures build to arrest annual budget deficits now exceeding $1 trillion."

Targeting TARP: "After talks with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and other administration officials, congressional Democrats are eying up to $70 billion in unused borrowing authority from last year's $700 billion Wall Street bailout for jobs-related legislation, two House Democratic aides said," per the AP's Andrew Taylor. 

Targeting Bernanke — the dream team of Jim Bunning, Bernie Sanders, and Jim DeMint: "Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, in a Senate hearin g that could sway a clamorous debate over the power of the central bank, admitted mistakes in managing the economy but declared that his actions helped save America from another Great Depression," Jon Hilsenrath writes in The Wall Street Journal.

On Afghanistan — a new Marine offensive overnight, and general congressional support: "There does seem to be a consensus to give the president the funding he needs, probably a vote early next year," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" Friday.

But this is what a firm date looks like? "The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, scheduled to begin in July 2011, will 'probably' take two or three years, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Thursday, although he added that 'there are no deadlines in terms of when our troops will all be out,' " The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung reports.

How the date came into play, per the Los Angeles Times' Christi Parsons and Julian E. Barnes: "It started out as a projection from the military, intended only for the ears of the president and his top advisors. But in a war council meeting at the White House less than a month ago, Obama proposed making it public. 'Let's name that date,' he said, according to participants. And then on Tuesday, he did." Peggy Noonan, in her Wall Street Journal column: "Can a president fight a war without a base? Will the American people, on this issue, decide to become his base? In the end what they decide will likely determine the ultimate outcome in Afghanistan." 

The choice: "The president's decision forces Democratic candidates to stake uncomfortable positions that will either put them at odds with the administration or the party's progressive base — a troubling prospect since Democratic voter turnout in 2010 is predicated on having an enthusiastic and motivated base," Politico's Alex Isenstadt writes. "But equally important, the troop buildup is already emerging as a divisive issue in a handful of Democratic primary elections while threatening to expose other Democrats to general election risk because of contradictory past statements on Afghanistan or Iraq war strategy."

On health care — first votes down, and what a headline for day one: "Democrats win $400B in Medicare cuts," per the story by the Washington Times' Stephen Dinan.

The abortion fight is the next big one — but look who can't get 60 this time: "An amendment restricting abortions does not appear to have enough support to be attached to the Senate healthcare bill," The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.: "Most Republicans will [vote for it] but I don't think that will be enough to carry it through, it's a 60-vote margin."
But not getting 60 now may make it harder to get 60 later: "Senator Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, threatened to join with Republicans to vote against the final measure unless he's satisfied with language preventing federal funds from being used for the procedure. He may soon offer an amendment to bring language in the bill in line with a House provision," Bloomberg's Kristin Jensen and Laura Litvan write.

NARAL takes on Stupak — with pictures featuring, among others, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. "Why would politicians like Bart Stupak introduce abortion into America's health care debate?" says the ad. "Because they want to impose one of the worst restrictions on a woman's right to choose in a generation."

Pressure from the left — should the public option be opened up to more of the public? "I do think that the end game is holding insurance companies accountable. My concern is you can't let the public option be something of a health care ghetto," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said on's "Top Line" Thursday.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, to the The Hill's Jeffrey Young: "There's no negotiations, as far as I'm concerned. … We've compromised the public option three times — maybe four depending on how you define it — and this bill's not going to continue to become more pro-insurance-company. End of story."

The case Democrats are still trying to make — yes, still: "If [health care reform] fails, the demagogues will have won, and we probably won't deal with our biggest fiscal problem until we're forced into action by a nasty debt crisis," Paul Krugman writes in his New York Times column. "So to the centrists still sitting on the fence over health reform: If you care about fiscal responsibility, you better be afraid of what will happen if reform fails."

Wait — a missed deadline, on health care? "The Senate's slow-moving health bill is colliding with other legislative priorities on the economy, raising chances that Democrats won't meet their goal of pushing a health-care overhaul through the chamber this month," Greg Hitt and Naftali Bendavid write in The Wall Street Journal.

On the party crashers — the blame game, with three Secret Service uniformed officers placed on leave:

"U.S. Secret Service director Mark Sullivan told a House committee investigating the Nov. 24 White House security breach that the agency bears full responsibility for mistakenly allowing Tareq and Michaele Salahi to attend a state dinner to which they apparently did not have an invitation. He rejected any suggestion that the White House was to blame," ABC's Devin Dwyer writes. "But when asked if a member of the White House staff stationed at the entry checkpoint could have prevented the Salahis from getting in, Sullivan said 'it would have helped.' "

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., to Bill Weir on "Good Morning America" Friday, on Desiree Rogers: "I think she should explain what happened… The bottom line is, if her people had been doing the job that they'd always done before, this incident would not have occurred."

Quite the venue for a constitutional crisis: "The White House's position that White House staff 'don't go to testify in front of Congress' must come as quite a shock to its allies in Congress — particularly Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, John Conyers, and Patrick Leahy, who led the charge to force a number of Bush White House officials to testify during the last administration," Dana Perino and Bill Burck write, for National Review. "Imagine their surprise to learn that Obama's lawyers agree with Bush's lawyers that Congress is powerless to require testimony from senior White House officials." 

Friday, in transportation news: "U.S. Transp ortation Secretary Ray LaHood will lead a conference on domestic high-speed rail manufacturing on Friday, December 4 at 2:00 p.m. EST.  Secretary LaHood will discuss investment opportunities arising from the economic stimulus to create good manufacturing jobs here in America.  Secretary LaHood and other senior officials will also lead a conversation among business leaders, union representatives, industry groups and experts on realizing President Obama's vision for the development of high-speed and intercity passenger rail."

Rough storyline, going into Copenhagen: "As green activists converge on the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, their sense of disappointment is palpable," Politico's Ben Smith writes. "What was seen in the heady days of 2007 and 2008 as the likeliest venue for a new international agreement on carbon emissions now caps a year of mixed results. While the American political system has, in many ways, seen a total transformation in its capacity and willingness to tackle such a transcendent issue, some of the traditional obstacles remain — primarily the age-old laws of partisan politics and the limits on how much ambitious legislation Congress can absorb at one time."

Al Gore, on his role in Copenhagen: "Whatever role I can play that will be useful, I'm there to do it. But I'm under no illusions that I'm anything but a private citizen outside the process. I will be making a speech to the meeting, and I will be having meetings with delegations that have asked me to come meet with them," he tells Politico's John F. Harris and Mike Allen.

Sen. Harry Reid's ads — not hitting home: "Nevadans aren't warming up to Sen. Harry Reid, despite plenty of early advertising designed to boost his image, a new poll shows," per Benjamin Spillman of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "Just 38 percent of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of the Democratic Senate majority leader, the same percentage as in October and 1 point higher than in August. The survey of 625 registered Nevada voters by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research suggests the promotional bombardment that Reid launched more than six weeks ago has yet to hit its target.

Birthers, Palin — Palin, birthers: "I think the public rightfully is still making it an issue," Sarah Palin told a conservative talk show host. "I don't have a problem with that. I don't know if I would have to bother to make it an issue, because I think that members of the electorate still want answers… I think it's a fair question, just like I think past association and past voting records — all of that is fair game."

The Kicker:

"If they do have any connection . . . it is very limited as far as the fun stuff is concerned." — Chris Korge, a top Obama fundraiser, wanting more face time with President Obama.

"I want to go to Mongolia and ride a horse across the steppes and pretend I am in Genghis Khan's horde — but I'm not hurting anybody!" — Bill Clinton, to Foreign Policy, asked what country he wants to visit that he hasn't been to yet.

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