Analysis: Obama's moves pack political rather than economic heft

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 25, 2011 10:08 PM
Analysis: Obama's moves pack political rather than economic heft

By Alister Bull

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is bombarding Americans with job initiatives that may lack economic heft but show him as an activist leader compared to a 'do-nothing' Congress as he campaigns for re-election in 2012.

Obama will have rolled out three separate measures in three days when he wraps up a tour of electorally vital western states on Wednesday, and more moves are coming.

White House Communications Director Dan Pfieffer said the Democratic president will use executive orders and other tools to deliver initiatives "on a consistent basis for months to come."

"While the policy benefits of this new proposal are at best small, this is unquestionably a useful political weapon for the president," noted Keith Hennessey, who worked in Republican former president George W Bush's White House.

With 14 million Americans out of work, the economy is struggling to gain momentum amid fears that an intractable European debt crisis may tip the United States back into recession.

Opinion polls showed Obama's approval ratings stuck near record lows, although a new survey by Gallup detected a tiny improvement in confidence.

Ron Bonjean, a Republican party analyst and political strategist, said the president may be smart with his messaging but would still face a day of reckoning with voters.

"Obama's strategy is to make it look like he is at least trying to get something done," he said. "But his problem is that he has a record now showing how his policies have hurt job creation."

The president, declaring last month that the United States faced an economic "emergency," unveiled a $447 billion jobs plan. When that was swiftly blocked by Republicans in Congress, he set about using the powers vested in him as chief executive to bypass lawmakers.

EXECUTIVE ACTION

Obama deployed an executive order to help homeowners on Monday while in Las Vegas -- the epicenter of the collapse of the U.S. housing bubble since 2006.

On Tuesday his administration issued a "challenge" to community healthcare centers to hire 8,000 military veterans over the next three years.

On Wednesday Obama will announce at an event in Denver that he is changing the rules to ease the growing burden of student loans.

These steps could help 1 million borrowers who owe more on their homes than the properties are worth, lower the income cap on loan payments for 1.6 million graduates, while cutting monthly student loan rates for 6 million more.

William Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said such measures will do little to boost growth of the $14 trillion U.S. economy but will enhance the image of Obama as an economic leader.

Galston, who advised President Bill Clinton, also recognized parallels with Clinton's 1996 "small bore school uniform proposal" as a way to reconnect with voters.

Clinton instructed the federal government to distribute manuals nationwide on how to enforce school uniform policy as a way of emphasizing self-discipline.

"Obama is doing smaller things in leu of the bigger things he would do in the same area if he thought he had a better partner down at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue," he said, referring to the U.S. Congress.

Republicans blocked Obama's jobs bill because it raised taxes on Americans making $1 million a year or more to pay for it.

The president brandishes that opposition as an example of Republican obstruction, polishing a central part of his 2012 re-election campaign playbook that they are the party of the rich, while taping into public anger over gridlock in Washington.

"Steps like these won't take the place of the bold action we need from Congress to boost our economy and create jobs, but they will make a difference," Obama said in a statement. "Until Congress does act, I will continue to do everything in my power to act on behalf of the American people."

(Reporting by Alister Bull; editing by Philip Barbara)