In the sixth month of his second term, President Obama is still trying to figure out what he wants to do in the remainder of his presidency.
Thus far, Obama -- who appears to spend most of his time delivering speeches -- doesn't have a clue. He has become the "Podium President" whose only agenda is to avoid dealing with the economy.
While polls show that the economy remains the number one concern for the American people, it has become "the quiet crisis" in Obama's government -- unheralded, unspoken, unnoticed and untreated. No one talks about it, least of all the Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Efforts at creating jobs in this economy have become far less important for the administration than winning messaging wars and riding out the scandals that threaten to engulf the Obama presidency.
At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a battery of committees and subcommittees are holding hearings on a range of administration scandals that constitute significant abuses of power.
House lawmakers heard testimony this past week from ordinary Americans affiliated with various conservative groups who said that the IRS had demanded the names of political figures with whom they've been in contact, copies of speeches they'd given, and lists of their donors. These were only some of the disturbing inquiries that threatened their right to free speech.
The IRS made no such inquiries into liberal non-profit groups seeking similar tax exempt status.
Elsewhere, lawmakers are digging more deeply into Attorney General Eric Holder's dubious claim that he had no role in the administration's alarming search of a Fox News reporter's e-mails, when numerous public reports say he signed off on the Justice Department's order.
Now we learn that the National Security Agency is collecting tens of millions of Americans' Verizon telephone records after an April court order.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is busily preparing to put its health care program into full gear next year, a program that will authorize the IRS to penalize millions of Americans who do not obtain health insurance. Small businesses which do not provide medical insurance for their employes will also be liable.
Is it any wonder that 56 percent of Americans recently told the Gallup Poll that "the federal government today has too much power?" I expect that number to rise leading up to the 2014 midterm elections.
A little over a week ago, the national news media grew hyperbolic over the news that home prices and home sales were rising in many metropolitan areas, declaring that this was proof positive of a more robust economy. But left unreported was the fact that home sales remain far below their highs before the sub-prime home mortgage collapse and that they have barely impacted economic growth.
University of Maryland economist Peter Morici reminds us that home sales at higher prices "only impact GDP [the broadest measurement of economic growth] and employment to the extent those drive up consumer spending and new home construction.
But consumer spending is weakening, and even though home building is up, "housing construction is only 3 percent of GDP," Morici points out."Bottom line: a more robust economy can drive housing but surging housing prices are no panacea for what ails the economy and jobs market."
With mortgage rates rising toward the 4 percent level, (partly in anticipation of the Federal Reserve suggesting it may taper down its low interest rate policy) home sales could decline again.
Let's examine some economic data from the past couple of weeks in the aftermath of the cheerleading from nightly news shows.
-- The Commerce Department reports that consumer spending fell 0.2 percent in April for the first time in nearly a year. Battered by higher taxes (including this year's hike in the Social Security payroll tax) and high gasoline prices, consumers have pulled back -- not a good sign.
-- Manufacturing output fell to its lowest level in four years in May, according to the Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index (from 50.7 in April to 49 in May). "We definitely have seen some softness in the economic data for manufacturing over the last few months," Chad Moutray, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers, told the Washington Post this week.
-- Hourly pay scales for non-farm workers dropped at a 3.8 percent annualized rate in the first three months of this year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this week. Hourly pay has risen by 2 percent annually on average over the past four years. That's "the weakest four-year stretch on record," writes economic analyst Mark Gongloff of Huffington Post. Overall, weekly wages have been flat.
-- Payroll provider ADP reported this week that U.S. businesses added just 135,000 jobs in May, well below the 165,000 jobs created in April. Notably, the private survey firm found that manufacturers lost 6,000 jobs last month.
If Friday's Bureau of Labor Statistics job report falls anywhere near this range, it will be an unimpeachable sign that the economy is slowing once again.
Some analysts insist this downturn is in large part due to government spending cuts, but a meager $85 billion in sequester cuts isn't seriously hurting a nearly $17 trillion economy. This is the result anti-growth, anti-job tax rates, regulations, energy, and trade policies.
Don't look for a dramatic change in the Obama economy anytime soon. The president and his party seem perfectly comfortable with his policies and see no reason to change them now.
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