Barack Obama's troubled presidency was hit hard again this week on several fronts that shook the White House and raised fears in his party of deeper losses in Congress next year. First, Republicans won a special election for a long-held Democratic House seat in New York that the GOP turned into a referendum on Obama's economic policies. Then, internal administration emails revealed the White House pushed budget officials to rush a review of a half-billion-dollar federal loan to a solar manufacturer championed by Obama that ended up going bankrupt. Finally, a new report says poverty in America surged in the past year to its highest level since 1993. And especially troubling, the 2011 high school scores for graduating seniors fell to their lowest point in four decades. Just a few days after Obama unveiled yet another jobs stimulus plan before a joint session of Congress, the Democrats' embarrassing failure to hold on to a House seat they've held since the 1920s was an early warning shot that the GOP could expand its hold on the House and win control of the Senate in 2012. The pivotal issue that dominated the special election won by Bob Turner, a 70-year-old retired cable television executive making his first try for elective office, was an economy teetering on the edge of recession and creating few, if any, net new jobs. Turner called on voters to "send Washington a message," turning the election into a referendum on Obama's handling of the economy. New York's 9th Congressional District, which includes parts of Queens and Brooklyn, is home to a large number of Orthodox Jews, most of whom oppose Obama's plan for Palestinian statehood drawn along Israel's 1967 borders. That, too, raised questions about whether many of his party's Jewish supporters would turn against Democrats next year. Campaign strategist Dick Morris, a former adviser to President Clinton, said the GOP victory "sends a pointed warning to House Democrats who were formerly comfortable in their 'safe' Democratic districts: No Democrat is safe." Republicans crushed the Democrats in another special House election Tuesday in northern Nevada that focused largely on the Obama economy in a state that has a 12.9 percent unemployment. The GOP's ad in that race also said, "Send Washington a message, not a rubber stamp." Then came The Washington Post's story that the White House had "tried to rush federal reviewers for a decision" on a $535 million guaranteed federal loan to build a solar panel factory for the Solyndra company, despite warnings that this firm had financial problems. Repeated emails from the White House to reviewers at the Office of Management and Budget pressured them to speed up and clear the loan so Vice President Biden could announce its approval by the government at a September 2009 groundbreaking. One email to an OMB official noted "the time pressure we are under to sign off on Solyndra." The loan was shoved through, despite doubts about the company, and the manufacturing facility was built. Obama spoke at the factory, calling it a great example of the kind of businesses and jobs his policies would create. But Solyndra declared bankruptcy just two weeks ago. The factory is shuttered and fenced, and Congress is in the midst of major investigative hearings into what has all the earmarks of a major abuse of power for political purposes. Earlier this year, Solyndra executives told administration officials they were in financial stress and would go out of business if the company did not receive an additional loan of $67 million. OMB reviewers warned that it would be better to let the company liquidate rather than sink more money into it, according to emails. Green technology has been a centerpiece of Obama's jobs plan, even though many economists have questioned whether these new technologies are economically viable industries without their heavy federal subsidies. Throughout the nearly three years of his presidency, Obama has made often outlandish claims that these clean-technology loan programs would produce thousands if not millions of new jobs in the future. But a new investigation by the Post reported Thursday that his $38.6 million loan guarantee program "has created just a few thousand jobs two years after it began." Perhaps no programs begun or enlarged under Obama have proven to be a bigger failure than those to combat poverty. Despite hundreds of billions of dollars spent on stimulus programs to create jobs and, in the process, help lift people out of poverty, the Census Bureau reported this week that the number of people living in poverty has climbed sharply, surging last year to nearly one in six Americans. According to the census figures, 46.2 million people now live below the poverty line, which is $22,314 a year for a family of four. This is the fourth year in a row that poverty has risen. Obama, apparently, is doing no better with his costly plans to spend more to improve education. He has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into his "Race to the Top" program to reward states that win what critics say is a politically influenced awards competition. But the College Board reported Wednesday that reading scores for graduating high school seniors dropped to their lowest level in nearly 40 years. All of these cases testify to a level of incompetence and political influence, not to mention outrageous exaggeration, that permeates this administration. This week's special House elections were an important preliminary referendum on this administration. The big one comes in November 2012.
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