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The Economy Grows—and with it Obama's Approval Rating

12:00 AM, Feb 11, 2012 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
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Of course, the president can’t take credit for all of these developments. And in his heart of hearts he probably wishes that some of the growth were not coming from a resurgent oil and gas industry, producing more of the fossil fuels he would so like to scrub from the American economy. But Republicans, who during darker days emphasized that Obama “has taken ownership of the economy,” are in no position to argue credibly that these bits of good news come despite Obama’s policies rather than as a result of them. They are, however, responding by pointing out that over 15 percent of Americans are still out of work or involuntarily working shorter hours. If the economy continues to improve, and if that 15 percent number and the number of long-term unemployed start to come down, Mitt Romney, who has based his campaign on the idea that he is a better economic manager/job creator than Obama, might be forced to come up with the over-arching theme that has so far been absent from his campaign.

A more fertile field for criticism of the newly buoyant president than one based solely on the latest month’s economic statistics lies in the area of fiscal policy. In addition to telling and re-telling the tale of presidential policies that have the nation head-over-heels in debt, with no credible plan to reduce deficits that are due to swell as the population ages, there will be the Obama budget as a handy target.

On Monday the president will release his budget plan for fiscal 2013, which starts on October 1. Or, more precisely, a plan that will provide the talking points for his reelection campaign. Obama knows that most of the features of his budget have no chance of being accepted by Congress, but believes that his call for $1.5 trillion in new taxes, half on families earning more than $250,000 per year, the other half by mandating a minimum effective tax rate of 30 percent on families earning more than $1 million, will both solidify his base and attract independents unhappy with the growing disparity between their incomes and the 1 percent of top earners, so reviled by the Occupiers. He would also eliminate some of the special treatment of corporate jets and the oil and gas industry, but not the subsidies to the greener sources of energy that so far have proved so wildly uneconomic that subsidies could not forestall bankruptcies such as the collapse of Solyndra, or offset the troubles of several battery manufacturers.

The president also proposes to reduce spending on government health care programs by more than $300 billion, but not by reforming the system. Rather, the cuts are to come out of reimbursements to hospitals and doctors, already at levels that threaten the supply of quality health care services. Indeed, reimbursements are already so low that many doctors are refusing to take on patients who rely on government programs for payment.

It is customary for Congress to announce on receipt of presidential budgets that they are dead on arrival, and then settle down to serious negotiations to shape an acceptable budget. Not this time, in this election year. This is a dead budget, definitely deceased. It just will not fly. 

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