Donald Lambro

"The most effective way that the Congress could help to support the economy right now would be to work to address the nation's fiscal challenges in a way that takes into account both the need for long-run sustainability and the fragility of the recovery," Bernanke told the Senate Banking Committee in his most forceful plea to date.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the "fiscal cliff" looming menacingly at year's end will likely trigger a recession early next year. But Bernanke warned, "These estimates do not incorporate the additional negative effects likely to result from public uncertainty about how these matters will be resolved."

The Fed, along with private-sector economists, has lowered its economic growth forecasts for the rest of this year to around 2 percent -- a pathetically weak level that ensures the unemployment rate will remain stuck in the 8 percent range or, more likely, rise in the months to come.

It should be clear that the direction of the economy will determine Obama's political fate, and judging by the latest bleak statistics, it may already have done so.

The manufacturing sector is contracting. Retail sales fell in June for the third consecutive month. Weekly jobless claims rose by 34,000 last week. Home sales and other leading economic indicators remain weak. Unemployment has been stuck at more than 8 percent for 41 consecutive months.

A new report from the aerospace industry warns that unless Congress acts, automatic, end-of-year spending cuts will eliminate more than 2 million jobs.

"The unemployment rate will climb above 9 percent, pushing the economy toward recession and reducing projected growth in 2013 by two-thirds," said Stephen S. Fuller, a public policy professor at George Mason University who authored the report.

But economists say the Obama economy is already in the danger zone, even before it goes over the fiscal cliff in December.

The country is "approaching recession when measured by employment, retail sales, investment and corporate profits," says Bill Gross, founder of the bond investment firm Pimco.

All this suggests the end is near for Obama's troubled presidency unless there is some miraculous economic turnaround between now and Nov. 6. And no one sees that happening.

While the national news media are focused on Romney's tax returns and his record at the Bain Capital investment firm he founded, the voters are focused like a laser beam on the crumbling Obama economy.

A CBS-New York Times poll out this week says Romney leads Obama by 49 percent to 41 percent on who is best able to improve the economy and create jobs.

Ominously for the Obama campaign, Americans who say the economy is improving fell from 33 percent in April to 24 percent this month.

Obama may still hope he can blame all of his woes on the previous administration, but nearly two-thirds of the poll's respondents blame the feeble economy on his policies.

The Obama campaign is spending tens of millions of dollars on TV ads bashing Romney's years at Bain, but 60 percent of Americans told CBS-New York Times pollsters the issues the ads raise didn't matter to them.

In this election, the economy and jobs trump Obama's attack ads.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.