Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke would probably not be unhappy that I pulled a Joe Biden during his press conference. Yes, I confess I nodded off, despite the historic nature of the session and its obvious importance to our nation’s future. Mr. Bernanke was above all else hoping to avoid drama at this first-ever public confrontation, and that he did.
He did not, however, answer the questions that are on everyone’s minds: namely, how do we get the economy rolling again? Mr. Bernanke droned on about the dual mandate of the Fed – chasing higher employment while stomping on inflation – but most of us see our central bank not achieving either of those ambitions. Despite the loosest of monetary policies, unemployment seems stuck near 9%, while commodity inflation is unquestionably picking up steam.
Recent readings on the economy are not at all encouraging. As has been widely reported, growth stumbled in the first quarter, dropping to 1.8% in real terms, while a jump in unemployment claims this week lifted the four-week moving average over 400,000 again – not a good sign. Meanwhile, even as he spoke, the dollar continued its swoon and the price of gold, silver and oil steadily marched higher.
Since Bernanke mainly focused on how his organization will bring QE2, the controversial second phase of quantitative easing, to an end, Americans are left wondering what exactly will get us out of the economic pit that we currently find ourselves in.
President Obama is doubtless equally perplexed. Recognizing that no post-war president has been elected with employment about 7.5%, he is surely frantic about our sluggish economy. Though Mr. Obama is keen to pin our problems on everybody and anybody outside his administration – including oil companies and those pesky speculators that are driving up oil prices for nefarious reasons -- the public isn’t buying it. There’s a sense in the land that the White House has stood in the way of our recovery; that sense would be correct.
After Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives last fall, President Obama made a great show of “moving to the center”, trying to recapture the support of disaffected independents. The country had begun to tag Mr. Obama as anti-business, a posture not deemed helpful to moving the country forward. Accordingly, he briefly flirted with the business community; he even met with the Chamber of Commerce! (Imagine thinking it radical that the president of the United States would reach out to the country’s leading business organization.)
Though much has been made of this supposed shift, the reality is that Mr. Obama has set wheels in motion that cannot easily be reversed. Three recent examples of the government setting back the cause of commerce make this clear.
In the first, the National Labor Relations Board has petitioned the courts to prevent Boeing from moving some of its assembly operations to South Carolina, one of our country’s 22 right-to-work states.
Boeing has already spent billions of dollars on a new plant at which it intends to build it second line of Dreamliners.
This unprecedented interference in the private sector rings alarm bells among business managers, and rightly so. It exposes the inherently pro-union bias of this administration, which has been made manifest in many ways – including the appointment of Craig Becker, former Counsel to the SEIU and AFL-CIO, to the National Labor Relations Board.
The second is the effort by the Health and Human Services Department to remove Howard Solomon, CEO of Forest Labs, from office. Mr. Solomon has never been accused of any wrong-doing, much less convicted, in a case involving misleading advertising and kickbacks to doctors undertaken by one of the company’s divisions. Forest Labs settled all charges last year but recently the HHS sent a letter suggesting it may “exclude” Mr. Solomon from doing business with the government. If they follow through on this threat, Mr. Solomon will have to step down.
No pharmaceutical company can survive without access to the federal money spout. This tactic is a way to bolster President Obama’s claims that he can salvage Medicare by going after waste and fraud – a major element in his completely inadequate response to Paul Ryan’s aggressive program aimed at guaranteeing the survival of the healthcare plan.
The third is the EPA’s recent move to block Shell Oil from drilling on its leases offshore Alaska. The EPA is not charging that Shell has acted unsafely, or that it has polluted the ocean. Rather, it is preventing the company from following up on its multi-billion dollar investment in the program by charging that emissions from an ice-breaking vessel could harm the air quality in a village some 70 miles distant.
Actually, the clamp-down stemmed from a theoretical estimation forecasting that the drilling would render the village’s air “close to air quality standards.” With Americans struggling to manage $4 per gallon gasoline prices, having the EPA step in the way of exploring a region estimated to hold an estimated 27 billion barrels of oil is unimaginable.
President Obama may have pivoted towards the center after the election, but the officials he put in place to direct his administration have not changed, and are just gathering steam. Across government today we have virulently pro-union, pro-environmental and anti-business activists in place. If Americans are wondering what’s slowing us down, they can start here.