By Sam Youngman - 06/18/10 12:54 AM EDT
The White House on Thursday launched a six-week public-relations campaign to shift attention from the disaster in the Gulf to the jobs the administration boasts of creating or saving through its economic stimulus.
But analysts and pollsters say the “Recovery Summer” effort, headed by Vice President Joe Biden, may be politically risky at a time when unemployment remains around 10 percent and it is not entirely clear how quickly the economy will right itself.
But as Obama prepares to travel to Columbus, Ohio, on Friday to attend the groundbreaking of what his administration calls the 10,000th stimulus-package road project, Republicans are repeating their mantra: Where are the jobs?
The GOP’s criticism got a boost this week when jobless claims unexpectedly jumped by 12,000.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office also pointed out that the Obama administration undertook a similar effort to sell the $787 billion stimulus plan to the public this time last year, when the unemployment rate was 9.5 percent.
It is now 9.7 percent — and that includes a boost from temporary jobs related to the census.
Trumpeting a slogan or catchphrase can be dangerous. As the war in Iraq dragged on — and worsened — President George W. Bush was roundly mocked for standing onboard an aircraft carrier in 2003 before a banner declaring “Mission Accomplished” and saying the end of major combat operations had come.
And as much as his father, President George H.W. Bush, insisted the country was emerging from the recession of the early 1990s, still-struggling voters didn’t agree and elected Bill Clinton instead.
Biden, appearing at the daily White House briefing Thursday, said the unemployment rate has inched higher than he and other administration officials anticipated because “this recession was so much deeper, so much more profound than anyone — most people thought it was.”
“The fact of the matter is unemployment is unacceptably high,” Biden said. “We knew that the hole dug by the recession that was created by the policies of the last administration resulted in a loss, a real loss of somewhere between $2 trillion and $3 trillion in the economy.
“We never thought that $787 billion was going to fill that hole.”
With national attention focused on another hole — the one leaking oil into the Gulf — Democrats have been desperate to focus on job creation. The Recovery Summer, strategists say, is one way to do that.
“The oil spill will continue to be the focus of a lot of attention, no matter what the White House does, until that video of the gusher is quashed,” said Democratic strategist Dan Gerstein. “But there are things the White House can do to broaden and shift the discussion, and this recovery summer program is not a bad way to do that.
“For it to work, though, there has to be more deliverables than debatables, more results, less spin.”
With more than $6.2 billion of the stimulus package allocated, Biden and administration officials say about 2.8 million jobs have already been saved or created.
“From the intense skepticism and the doubt many, many of you expressed 14 months ago, particularly some of the folks who didn‘t want to vote for this legislation, I think it’s fair to say there’s general consensus among most economists that a significant portion of the growth in the GDP as well as the job growth is attributable to the Recovery Act,” Biden said.
The latest Congressional Budget Office report on the stimulus, issued about three weeks ago, said that the package’s effects on employment and economic growth were to peak in quarter two and quarter three of calendar year 2010 and start to diminish thereafter. The timing — with midterms a few months away — is not coincidental.
Republicans, however, remain skeptical.
“They’ve been selling the recovery for a year now,” said GOP strategist Kevin Madden. “People are convinced it was an inefficient, poorly managed use of taxpayer dollars.”
Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons said people are experiencing the benefits of the stimulus; they just need the White House “to connect the dots” and communicate that without it, they would be unemployed. The Recovery Summer events are a way to do that, Simmons said.
“Frankly, I think it would be malpractice not to take a victory lap for such a huge legislative and economic accomplishment,” Simmons said.
But with Democrats’ appetite for spending seeming to lessen in recent days and weeks, another sizable jobs package or even another unemployment measure requested by Obama appears to be in jeopardy.
Biden said the White House is talking to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) about a compromise “in what was roughly a $140 billion bill.”
“This is not a time to take — to use the metaphor — to take our foot off the accelerator here,” Biden said. “We still need to continue to create jobs and spur job growth now.”
Biden said the administration has 52 votes in the Senate to pass the unemployment measure sought by Obama to prevent mass layoffs, including of police and teachers.
“As you know, a majority no longer rules in the United States Senate, so you need 60 [votes],” Biden said. “In the old days, it would have been enough, you know, [to have] 52. So we think we can put together a compromise that will continue — it won’t be all we asked for — but will continue to spur job growth.”