WASHINGTON -- Hiring is picking up, and consumer confidence and the housing market are showing signs of life, but the U.S. economy still is lumbering to reach a full recovery, posing a political threat to President Barack Obama as he travels to Illinois on Wednesday to deliver what the White House bills as a major speech on the economy.
Compromise is elusive in deeply partisan Washington, and there are limited steps the executive branch can take to move the economic needle. The speech comes as some economic indicators continue to show only modest rebounds and months before Obama and Republican lawmakers face a renewed clash over spending and the federal budget.
But Obama and his aides said the speech comes as the economy is stabilizing after a deep descent, offering the president an opportunity to rise above the daily chatter and offer his vision for restoring the middle class’s ability to achieve the American Dream.
“This is a long-term project,” Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday. “It’s not enough just to see the stock market bounce back. . . . We need to do more.”
The speech comes six months into Obama’s second term – which has been buffeted by a series of what Carney called “fake scandals,” as well as a failed effort to secure gun control legislation. But White House aides say it gives Obama an opportunity to refocus attention on the economy.
But the public remains skeptical.
“The public view is that we’re still on pretty rocky ground,” said Carroll Doherty, an associate director at the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, which measures perceptions of economic news and opinions about the national economy. A survey Pew released Tuesday shows 44 percent of Americans say it will be a “long time” before the economy fully recovers – though the recession officially ended in 2009.
“Job growth has been steady but not overwhelming and not nearly enough to budge these perceptions,” Doherty said. Obama’s overall job rating in the poll, which was more positive than negative in both May and June, is now evenly divided: 46 percent approve of his job performance while 46 percent disapprove.
A new McClatchy-Marist poll released Monday found Obama suffering his lowest job approval numbers in nearly two years. It found just 37 percent of the respondents approved of his handling of the economy, while 56 percent disapproved.
Although some indicators, including new job growth, have improved, Scott Anderson, the chief economist of San Francisco-based Bank of the West, said projections of the gross domestic product – the sum of goods and services in the U.S. economy – remains below the rate necessary for a full recovery.
“That’s not the direction you want to go, and it’s a bit troublesome and problematic for the president,” Anderson said.
The pressure may increase on both Congress and Obama, with the Federal Reserve appearing “anxious to exit” and end its extraordinary efforts to stimulate the economy, Anderson said.
“That increases the reliance on the executive and legislative branches to keep the economy going,” Anderson said.
The effort to reframe the debate over the economy comes as Obama and Congress appear poised for a new round of battles over raising the debt ceiling – a fight that was expected to happen over the summer but that has been pushed into the fall, given stronger than anticipated revenue.