The Campaign Spot

When You Botch the Stimulus, No One Believes Your Health-Care Promises

This sentence, deep in the Washington Post’s coverage of the health-care summit, made me shake my head and be glad I’m not a congressional Democrat:

The White House’s best hope — perhaps its only hope — is that Obama can use a masterful performance during the six-hour appearance to “stiffen the spine” of congressional Democrats, one senior official said, persuading them to pass health-care legislation using the mechanism known as reconciliation, which requires a simple majority of 51 rather than 60 votes to prevail in the Senate.

Great, they’ve ordered up another “masterful performance.” I expect copper prices to rise as the administration assembles the biggest, loudest, shiniest cowbell ever.

I think Continetti hit in the right neighborhood, but understated it in this piece. Americans took a leap of faith with Obama, and his first act was the stimulus. And in order to get it passed, no promise was too big for the incoming president. January 10, 2009:

One day after the nation’s unemployment rate was reported to be at a 16-year high, President-elect Barack Obama on Saturday again raised the estimate of how many jobs would result from his economic recovery plan, saying it would create or save three million to four million, nearly 90 percent of them in the private sector . . . Without an economic recovery plan, the report warned, the unemployment rate could hit 9 percent, up from 7.2 percent now. If the plan is adopted, unemployment is still expected to rise but then fall late this year.

In February, Obama said that at the end of the first year, “we can start seeing some significant improvement.” He pledged to make sure “every single dollar is well spent.” We were promised unprecedented accountability. We were endlessly told that the projects were shovel-ready, and then, after it was passed, the impact was always just around the corner. We were also warned, “If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years. The unemployment rate could reach double digits.”

Of course, unemployment hit 10.2 percent, and while it’s down a bit from there, it’s not certain that it has peaked. Unemployment has increased in the construction sector every month, and you figure if the stimulus had any impact, it would have been in that field. Recovery.gov is full of bad data. And a year later, Obama himself admitted that “shovel-ready” projects aren’t actually ready to start immediately, or anything close to it.

I suspect the decline in Obama’s approval rating in the past year – particularly on the economy – has come from Americans who took that leap of faith with the new president and felt like they endured a crash landing. They just don’t trust Obama’s pledges about the effects of legislation anymore, and that’s why no matter how grandiose and appealing the promises surrounding the health-care bill get, the numbers barely budge.

No matter how “masterful” Obama’s performance is, the health-care bill is likely to remain pretty unpopular, with some corners of the electorate furiously opposed. Obama has to persuade congressional Democrats to ignore their constituents and, in many cases, end their careers over this legislation.

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