No Good News for the Administration, Either Home or Abroad

Posted: Sep 11, 2013 12:01 AM

Barack Obama's rapid plunge into economic, fiscal and foreign policy chaos has dealt a huge political blow to his long-troubled presidency.

In the space of one week, mediocre employment data show the U.S. economy on a steeper downward slide; his party is deserting him on his wildly unpopular plan to bomb Syria; and he's facing a pitched battle in Congress on the budget and the debt ceiling.

Last week's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report for August showed the Obama economy created only 169,000 jobs, well below what economists expected. Previous estimates of the number of jobs created in June and July were also revised sharply downward by 74,000 positions.

According to the government's revisions, the economy created only 104,000 jobs in July, an alarmingly low figure that revealed the economy's severe weakness.

Equally shocking, the data showed the U.S. workforce continues to shrink as many more discouraged job seekers told the BLS they were no longer looking for work, and thus were not counted among the unemployed.

That, not the number of jobs created, was the principal reason why the national unemployment rate fell a notch to a deceptively low rate of 7.3 percent.

The BLS report revealed that a mere 63.2 percent of the nation's working-age population now held a job or were looking for one -- the lowest percentage since 1978.

Close to 90 million Americans were now considered to have left the workforce, an increase of 1.7 million since August 2012. Last month alone, 516,000 more adult workers said they were no longer employed or seeking work.

The network news media usually make no distinction in what kind of jobs are created, leading Americans to think they're all full time. In fact, a very large share of them are temporary or part time.

"Businesses continued the shift toward contingent workers. In August, 123,000 more Americans reported working part time. Since January, the economy has added 813,000 more part-time positions, but only 35,000 full-time jobs," says University of Maryland business economist Peter Morici.

For "recent college graduates and middle-aged adults seeking positions, the situation is grim," Morici adds. If you combine the economy's part-timers who want full-time jobs and discouraged adults who have given up their search for work, the real national jobless rate becomes 13.7 percent, he says.

The reasons why are clear. Obamacare's rigid mandates for employers to provide health insurance for their full-time workers encourages them to hire only part-time workers or to cut back on their hourly work week.

Many employers say their reluctance to hire is largely the result of the economic uncertainty over Obama's policies, fearing slower growth in the months and years to come and higher taxes. The economy grew at only a 2.2 percent pace over the last four years, and it's likely to grow at a slower pace in the last two quarters of this year.

Meantime, Obama's foreign policy decision-making was in shambles at home and abroad after he failed to attract support for air strikes against Syria from Europe's leaders at the Group of 20 summit.

He raced home after that meeting, only to discover that he was also losing support for his war plan in Congress, especially from the liberal wing of his own party.

In the Senate, where he had his best chance of winning approval for his military strike resolution, opposition was strong from Democrats from red states, such as Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. And it came even from allies in Democratic states, such as Sen. Benjamin Cardin of Maryland.

"I have concerns about [military] action," Cardin wrote on Twitter. "Right now we need to deal with Syria via diplomacy if possible."

In the Republican House, more than 200 members have announced their opposition in an unholy alliance between libertarian, anti-war Republicans and far-left, anti-war Democrats.

There is "this general consensus -- across the political spectrum -- that we just need to mind our own business," said Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla.

Further complicating Obama's struggle for support on Capitol Hill were the administration's muddled, mixed messages about the nature of the punitive military strike that Obama was preparing to unleash on Syria.

Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in London on Monday, sought to play down the damage the cruise missile strikes would inflict on Syrian military targets. The strikes would require an "unbelievably small, limited kind of effort," he said.

Obama, however, in an interview with NBC News, flatly rejected Kerry's timid characterization of the cruise missile attacks, saying they would be significant. "The U.S. does not do pinpricks," he said.

It was clear the president and Kerry have not gotten their act together about how they planned to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for the chemical weapons that had killed more than 1,400 civilians outside of Damascus.

Nor had either been able to clearly make the case for military strikes, with top officials often using contradictory justifications for bombing Syrian military installations.

Many of the administration's supporters in Congress complained that the White House still had not explained how Assad's chemical arsenal endangered America's national security.

Looming over Obama's failure to fix the economy and boost payrolls, and his mishandling of the crisis in Syria, was next week's vote to keep the government running past the Sept. 30 budgetary deadline.

That battle, plus another deadline for raising the federal debt limit by Oct. 31, have injected further uncertainty into a jittery, stalled economy.

It has also deepened distrust in this president here and abroad about his policies and his judgment. And for good reason.

The economy is worsening by the month, the federal government is plunging deeper into record debt, and the president wants to go to war in Syria -- hoping we'll forget about the first two problems.