What Can Obama Do About The Economy?

Jul 22, 2013
Originally published on July 22, 2013 4:40 pm

This Wednesday, almost five years after the financial crisis that stirred the 2009 recession, President Barack Obama will begin a campaign-style journey across the Midwest to focus on the economy.

With Congress deadlocked in partisan strife, what can the president actually do to restart this conversation?

We ask Heidi Moore, is the U.S. finance editor for The Guardian.


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From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.

And on Wednesday, almost five years after the financial crisis that launched the 2009 recession, President Obama will begin a campaign-like trip across the Midwest to focus on the economy. But with Congress deadlocked, can he restart the conversation, especially after he just launched another one on race? Heidi Moore is the U.S. finance editor for The Guardian. Heidi, we're hearing these speeches are going to be broad-brush, but what is he likely to say? And what's the challenge? What's the goal here?

HEIDI MOORE: The main goal that Obama wants to do is - there are really two goals. One goal is to actually get the economy into a national conversation, which honestly it has not been since 2009, much to the detriment of most Americans, because we have a very high unemployment rate. And the second goal is kind of to recapture a little of the Obama magic.

The White House put out a video today of Obama's former economic speeches as a kind of direction on what he wants to talk about. And there's a lot of talk about, you know, boosting the middle class and giving opportunity to lots of people. But what's notable is that the video, which is a collage, a compilation, also highlights how many times Obama tried to boost the economy and of course was thwarted by this Congress. So it's kind of a double-edged sword that he's taking on. It's great that he's doing it, but he's only sure to face more resistance from Republicans.

YOUNG: Well, and to remind people that he hasn't achieved what he wanted for those who would say it's, you know, it doesn't matter what Congress wants. It's your job. But we're wondering if, you know, there was some recent loosening of the gridlock in Washington, the compromise on the filibuster, allowing some of the president's appointments to go through. So maybe he - is he taking advantage of that, or is he maybe kind of greasing the way for possibly, down the road, taking steps without congressional approval by reminding people he can't get it?

MOORE: Kind of a reverse coup.

YOUNG: Right.

MOORE: That would be very interesting. He really doesn't have a lot of options to take any steps by himself. I mean he really is dependent on Congress. It's the way our legislative system works. In the Senate we have seen some progress on various sorts of legislation, but they always end up having trouble in the House, and that's going to be his challenge again.

Now, the thing is, he needs to pick this fight because this year we're going to have - we're having another budget battle and we're going to have another debt ceiling battle, which, of course, as we know, has the propensity to create lasting economic damage if it's not resolved. So I'm sure part of his thinking is that he needs to talk about the economy and the budget and the debt ceiling all at once to build up the momentum he's going to need to push through any of those measures and to shame Congress into action, particularly the House of Representatives.

YOUNG: And remind us, what's the time frame there?

MOORE: Well, that all - it all happens kind of at the end of the summer. So he needs to really figure a lot of this out before September, which gives him only a few weeks. Of course there's a whole bunch of legislation that he needs to figure out before September, but the debt ceiling is really the most crucial thing. The budget, even that, can be - can wait or can be pushed.

But we can't mess around with the debt ceiling again.

YOUNG: Heidi Moore, one last thought. Why isn't the economy doing better? I mean, you talked about Congress as being recalcitrant. We've also had conversations here about how there are - why highly skilled workers replacing old-school workers. But your thoughts in the minute we have, why else isn't the relatively good news trickling down?

MOORE: Yeah. Recalcitrant is a great word for Congress. You know, part of it is that the stock market creates what we call a wealth effect. And it makes people feel rich because they see their 401(k)s or their mutual funds rising in value, but it doesn't create any actual money that they can cash in. So the stock market is a false indicator for our true economic health. For that we need investments in infrastructure and manufacturing and other major sectors.

YOUNG: Which is something we might be hearing from the president this week. Heidi Moore, U.S. finance editor for The Guardian. Thanks so much.

MOORE: Thank you.

YOUNG: And speaking of your finances, or maybe someone else's, what would you do if someone said here's $10,000, give it away? We'll take that up in about 30 seconds. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.