THE FIRST 100 DAYS: Obama Needs to Lower Expectations and Fast!

By Peter RoffSenior Fellow, Institute for Liberty/former Senior Political Writer, United Press International

Despite poll numbers indicating the American people continue to give President Obama high marks his administration is off to a rocky start.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, pulled their names from consideration for Cabinet posts after politically damaging information placed their confirmations in jeopardy.

[caption id="attachment_6726" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and President Obama (AP file photo)"][/caption]

A third, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, successfully weathered a confirmation storm after his failure to pay self-employment taxes during the years he worked for the International Monetary Fund went public.

[caption id="attachment_6013" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)"][/caption]

A fourth, management consulting executive Nancy Killefer, whom Obama tapped to serve as the government's first-ever "chief performance officer" and as a deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget, stepped down after it was reported she once failed to pay the unemployment compensation tax on her household help.

Unfortunately for the new administration these are not the only personnel matters currently in the public eye.

Citing Obama's strong declarations during the presidential campaign that lobbyists would not be found working for him, the media has begun to count the number of former lobbyists that either have gotten or appear on their way to getting administration jobs.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs attempted to downplay the issue Monday saying, "Even the toughest rules require reasonable exceptions," at best a hollow attempt to divert attention from the real issue. The plain fact is that, for any president, it's never a good thing when the media starts counting.

As a result of this, and the ongoing discussion of the "stimu-less" stimulus package, the same national polls that show Obama continuing to receive high marks also show the public's enthusiasm is slipping, if ever so slightly. As pollster Scott Rasmussen put it Tuesday, "President Obama continues to earn positive job reviews from the American people, but enthusiasm for his work has softened a bit." A new USA Today/Gallup survey shows Obama's pre-inaugural job-approval rating has slipped from 83 percent to 64 percent.

The Obama campaign, which relied heavily on new technology and appeals to younger voters, had more in common with the marketing of a celebrity than a presidential candidate. The posters, the logos, the messaging, even the carefully scripted (in a visual sense) public appearances were all part of a carefully managed plan to excite the public in ways that are new to presidential politics. But there is a downside to all this, which the Obama White House has been quick to figure out: the level of excitement the campaign generated is not, in a word, sustainable.

So the White House has been forced to spend its first week weeks doing quasi-damage control and is carefully lowering expectations. The run up to the House vote on the stimulus bill was accompanied by comments from the president and other senior officials that the current economic crisis could take years, rather than weeks or months to solve. And the failure to uncover the potential problems some of his nominees have has led to the president's admission that he is "frustrated with myself, with our team."

Unfortunately for the president, his days for decisive action may be numbered. Having talked down the already flagging economy, his team needs to be prepared for increasingly bad news.

The Congressional Budget Office projects a 2.2 percent economic contraction in 2009 in real terms, which would make it the worst year since 1938, a prediction two former CBO directors recently told a congressional committee was optimistic. CBO also said Wednesday that the long-term GDP numbers, and therefore the number of people working, would be lower if the stimulus package now being debated in the Senate passes and is signed into law than if it doesn't.

Unemployment, which was 4.9 percent one year ago, is now 7.2 percent -- with CBO forecasting could break 9 percent by early 2010. The budget deficit, which is already $1.186 trillion for Fiscal Year 2009 (and 8.3 percent of GDP vs. the 6 percent of GDP under Ronald Reagan in 1983) does not include the spending for the additional stimulus, a patch to cover the alternative minimum tax and any new programs the Obama administration may wish to fund. And that's all bad news for the president and his party, which is why the administration needs to lower expectations now, while it still controls the debate.