“This building, this half-a-billion dollar taxpayer investment, represents a serious conflict of interest on the part of the president and his team. It’s also a symbol of how the president thinks about free enterprise. Free enterprise to the president means taking money from the taxpayers and giving it freely to his friends.”
-- Mitt Romney at a campaign appearance outside of failed California solar-panel maker Solyndra.
President Obama has been preparing supporters for weeks about a couple of serious setbacks to his re-election hopes that may come this month: a slackening economy and a possible defeat for his health law at the Supreme Court.
Justices could this month deliver a stinging blow to the president if they were to strike down the central tenant of Obama’s 2010 health law: a requirement that all Americans purchase private health insurance or be enrolled in a government program.
This would be particularly bad because without this provision, the law would urgently need to be revisited and reassert itself as a campaign issue. Obama has so far mostly focused on attacking his rival, Mitt Romney, and urging the nation “forward.” Obama has only raised the health law as an issue when looking to solidify his base, and then only on narrow principles, not the history-making entitlement it created.
Justices later this month will render their decision on the law, and whatever they decide, it will change the trajectory of the race. The health law is the incumbent’s single-greatest liability. It led to the Democratic disaster of 2010 and still galls many independent voters for its size and the slipshod manner in which it was crafted. Mostly, though, it is so disliked because it represented a distraction from the more urgent work of righting the economy.
Every time Obama and his advisers said he was making a hard pivot to jobs in 2010 and 2011, it was an implicit admission that his attention had been elsewhere. Not good. That the “hard pivot” consisted mostly of campaign speeches denouncing congressional Republicans didn’t help much either.
That’s why today’s unemployment numbers are such bad news for the president. The re-litigation of Obama’s central achievement as president will come just as Americans are buckling up for another dip in the road to recovery.
The May jobs numbers are dire. The total unemployment rate jumped to 14.8 percent from 14.5 percent in April. The narrow measure of those unemployed but still looking for work ticked up from 8.1 percent to 8.2 percent. That means that not only did the workforce shrink as discouraged workers dropped out, but that there was a net loss of jobs.
That means that even before the really rough stuff began in Europe, the U.S. job market was already in decline. The downward revision of April’s overall economic measure (do they ever revise up?) shows that the problems in the U.S. economy are very real.
The economy only added 115,000 jobs in March, just treading water, but causing the real unemployment rate to rise as folks fled the job market. That number was revised this morning to 77,000 jobs, meaning that the contraction had already begun. We were sinking, not treading water two months ago.
The May number of 69,000 jobs added is a sharpening of the trend. The president today will still technically able to say that the economy has added jobs for dozens of months in a row, but it won’t really be true.
Both April and May saw too few jobs added to keep up with population growth, meaning that we have been running a jobs deficit.
That brings us to the other history-making act of the Obama era: the 2009 stimulus that ladled out more than $787 billion in a bid to revive the economy, then in free-fall. Romney has a tricky time talking about Obama’s health law, given his own state-level plan in Massachusetts, but he sure loves to talk about the stimulus.
Americans largely believe that the stimulus was either bad for the economy or ineffective and with four years of deficits above $1 trillion, expensive and ineffective is not a good place to be. As this downturn continues or accelerates, watch for Romney to sharpen his attacks on Obama’s rescue effort and to let others pick up on the subject of the health law.
This is the third June in a row that has brought unhappy economic news for a president hoping to show progress on the economy. Add in the health-law decision and you could have the makings of a very unhappy summer for the president.
The Day in Quotes
“Confidential: [White House] is working on some very explicit language on importation to kill it in health care reform. This has to stay quiet.”
-- Email from drug-industry lobbyist Bryant Hall to colleagues allaying concerns on drug importation in President Obama’s 2010 health law. The industry would win that and several other major prizes in exchange for publicly supporting the controversial legislation, lobbying lawmakers and funding a public relations effort on the law’s behalf. The email, released Thursday, was obtained by House Republicans investigating closed-door dealings in the creation of the law.
“I don’t want to learn how to play the game better, I want to put an end to the game playing.”
-- Then Sen. Barack Obama in a 2008 campaign ad attacking the head of the drug-industry lobby at the time, former Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin.
“I don't think that we ought to get into the position where we say: ‘This is bad work. This is good work.’ ...There's no question that in terms of getting up and going to the office and, you know, basically performing the essential functions of the office, the man who has been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold.”
-- Former President Bill Clinton on CNN discussing Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s qualifications for office. Clinton said the election should be about policy proposals, on which grounds President Obama was a superior choice
“They have a role in the private economy, and I’ve got a lot of friends there … on both sides of the aisle. I think the Bain strategy has been distorted in some of the public discussions.”
-- Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick appearing as a surrogate for President Obama on MSNBC.
“The months before I took the oath of office were a chaotic time. We knew our economy was in trouble, our fellow Americans were in pain, but we wouldn’t know until later just how breathtaking the financial crisis had been.”
-- President Obama introducing former President George W. Bush at the unveiling of the official White House portraits of him and former first lady Laura Bush.
“Mr. President, thank you for your warm hospitality. Madam First Lady, thank you so much for inviting our rowdy friends to my hanging.”
-- Former President George W. Bush at the unveiling of the official White House portraits of him and former first lady Laura Bush.
"These may be the only voters right here for Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.”
-- David Axelrod, senior political adviser to President Obama, after pro-Romney supporters interrupted a Boston press conference in which Axelrod was attacking Romney’s record as governor.
“Especially in these type of things, when you’re checking a box and you’re getting benefits that are entitled to people who need them and who historically have been discriminated upon, and you have others relying on those representations, it is a problem.”
-- Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., talking to reporters about a reversal by his would-be opponent, former Obama bank regulation czar Elizabeth Warren, who admitted Thursday that she had told law schools where she worked that she was an American Indian. Warren previously held that she did not inform the schools.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“Obama is jeopardizing something by going after Romney, through surrogates, but often himself. He's squandering a tactical advantage, which is something that is incomparable -- the presidential aura, the guy who is above it all. He is never going to have the transcendence of the Obama of ‘08, but it's he's going to get down there and act like any other politicians and sling stuff so early on, it will hurt him in a way he won't be able to repair.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.