Republicans launched a political offensive against President Barack Obama's handling of the economy after weeks of reticence, emboldened by Friday's report of a surging unemployment rate.
Political strategists have been pushing GOP lawmakers to attack Mr. Obama's $787 billion stimulus plan and to challenge how the Democratic Congress has handled everything from taxes to unions to energy policy. At the same time, Republicans have worried such attacks would backfire in the event of a recovery.
With Friday's report that the unemployment rate had jumped to 9.4%, the highest monthly reading since September 1983, Republicans put aside those qualms.
Rep. Dave Camp (R., Mich.), the senior Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, declared the stimulus plan a failure. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) proclaimed, "Washington is hanging middle-class Americans out to dry."
It seems awfully early for opponents to declare the stimulus a failure. Given that the economic numbers were positive, it seems an awfully peculiar time to do it. Imagine the economy stops losing jobs by this time next year and is gaining jobs by election time. How will early criticism look in such a scenario?
Of course, the Republicans aren't the only ones facing potential pitfalls for their early predictions on the economy. So far, about $55 billion of the $787 billion has actually been spent. That hasn't stopped the White House from taking credit for the recovery.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday hailed solar energy as a cost saver for a major Air Force base, one stop on a Western trip devoted to raising political money and promoting his economic policies.
Mr. Obama's aides had mocked reporters for making a fuss over his first 100 days in office, but the president was eager to assess the first 100 days of his $787 billion economic-stimulus package.
It has "saved or created nearly 150,000 jobs," he said, including "jobs building solar panels and wind turbines; making homes and buildings more energy-efficient."
Economists and political pundits have both questioned the President's assertion that he has created or saved any jobs. That's because there's absolutely no way to measure this number. It hasn't, however, stopped the president from taking credit for this creation.
There are other pitfalls for the president. In trying to sell the stimulus, the president proclaimed the economy would top 9% unemployment without it. Now, unemployment is at 9.4% and rising even with the stimulus. So far the economy has lost over 6 million jobs since December of 2007 and well over a million jobs since the stimulus passed. So, that 150,000 figure will fly in the face of the massive job losses that we've had and will still soon have.
The reality is that no one knows where the economy will go from here. Furthermore, no one can know for sure what will help or hurt the economy going forward for sure either. At the same time the president has been trying to stimulate the economy with his spending package, the Fed has been stimulating the economy with quantitative easing. Furthermore, economies go through natural cycles and so there will at some point be a recovery naturally.
So, we have a very complicated situation. There are pitfalls for both sides. For Republicans, they risk criticizing the stimulus too early and then having the economy turn around. For the president, he risks looking like a Pollyanna, someone that is unreasonably or illogically optimistic about the economy. Just imagine if we are still mired in the economic recession this time next year and we are still losing jobs by the election of November 2010. How will the president's early positive prnouncements look then?
The problem is that we dealing with a purely economic problem, and yet, we have politicians trying to use it to their advantage. We can tell what has happened to an economy but we can rarely pin point exactly what. It's even more difficult to pin point who or what is responsible. Yet, politicians have elections, some every two years. They don't have time figure out why something happened. They only have time to take credit for postive economic news and blame their opponents for the negative. Such politics in the face of uncertainty is always filled with political minefields.