Gas prices hurting Obama, who struggles to feel 'pain at pump'

John Boehner is right: If gas is $5 or $6 a gallon next fall, President Obama will likely lose his reelection.

Luckily for the president, gas prices rise in anticipation of the summer driving season, and some analysts already think they’ve hit a peak.

So while gas prices are killing Obama’s approval rating right now, the real downside for the president is that people paying $4 per gallon don’t want to hear about how much the economy is recovering. They want to see that the president gets what they’re going through.

This political conundrum again highlights what Obama lacks as a politician. The president desperately needs a Clintonesque “I feel your pain” moment, but that is one club he does not have in his bag.

At an event last week, Obama said the Secret Service no longer lets him pump his gas.
“I’ll admit to you, it’s been awhile since I … filled up at the pump,” the president told an audience at a Virginia town-hall event last week.

Obama’s problems with gas prices are frustrating to a White House that believes it has a positive story to tell the nation about the economy.

Unemployment is significantly lower than most economists thought it would be right now.
Most forecasters predicted unemployment would be above 10 percent for most of this year before settling in at 8.5 percent in 2012. Instead, the jobless rate has fallen to 8.8 percent, with private payrolls adding more than 200,000 workers last fall.

Wall Street expects the economy to continue to grow. Stocks jumped again Tuesday, hitting a new high since the financial crisis, on strong earnings reports from a host of companies.

Yet even if Obama starts shouting the good news about the economy from the roof of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., his voice will be drowned out by the click-click-click of dollars and cents disappearing at the pump.

Voters are seeing a larger percentage of their paychecks go straight to their gas tanks; the jump in fuel prices has eaten away at the paycheck tax break Obama fought the GOP to win as part of December’s tax deal.

According to polls, more people think the economy is headed in the wrong direction today than in October 2010, when unemployment was higher and stocks were lower, but so was the price of a tank of gas.

Obama’s approval rating has also tumbled since January, but that doesn’t mean the administration will change its strategy.

One senior administration official said the plan is to keep hammering away at the good news, like 13 straight months of job growth.

What Obama won’t do, the official said, is try to implement some knee-jerk quick fix that in the long run might jeopardize an economic recovery.

The game plan is classic Obama.

In the epic primary fight with Hillary Clinton, one of the many battles Obama fought with his then-rival was over whether to suspend the gasoline tax to give people a break at the pumps.

Obama refused to endorse the idea, blasting his Democratic rival for taking a politically expedient tack that he said would do nothing to solve the nation’s long-term energy problems.

That kind of “steady hand,” officials said this week, is what Obama will continue to offer the American people.

“Not taking your eye off the ball and not panicking and doing something rash because of rising gas prices,” the official explained.

The White House has embraced the idea that next November, voters will reward Obama for his coolness in turbulent times.

“This gas issue is serious,” Obama said last week at another town-hall event in Nevada.
Uh, yes. Yes, it is. And the sky is blue, grass is green and voters need a little more than that and the Justice Department task force aimed at tackling gas price fraud and manipulation that Obama announced last week.

They want the silver bullet that Obama says, and everyone knows, doesn’t exist, and in the absence of that, they need to see that Obama gets it.

“These gas prices are killing you right now,” Obama said at a third town hall last week at Facebook’s headquarters.

They’re also killing any chance Obama had of kicking off his reelection campaign amid reports of an economy on the rise.

Obama might have a steady hand, and on the economy he finally has a steady message.
But neither one will help him if he can’t get above the rising fury over rising gas prices.

Youngman is the White House correspondent for The Hill.

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