"Our economy is facing a major headwind, and that is Republicans in Congress." This was how White House spokesman Jay Carney tried Wednesday to explain away any responsibility on President Obama's part for the 0.1 percent economic contraction that occurred in the fourth quarter of last year. In particular, he cited Republican "brinksmanship" over the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester.
From the way he spoke, you would think that Republicans control the apparatus of government in Washington. You would think that Obama hadn't been president for four years, or that he didn't spend months threatening to veto any rollback of the sequester cuts, or that the sequester had not originally been his administration's idea as a solution to the budget impasse of 2011. But as he has for so long, Obama would rather blame, in Carney's words, Republican "brinksmanship" over the sequester.
This is rather rich for a few reasons. First, the notion that the defense sequestration might actually happen is a first quarter 2013 development, not from the last quarter. Republicans seemed extremely unlikely to accede to Obama's defense cut proposal last month, and markets widely expected that a deal would avert the sequester.
Second, the economic contraction of 0.1 percent -- the first economic pullback since the Great Recession ended in June 2009 -- has been attributed to nonsequester defense cuts, associated in large part to the winding down of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So how amusing to see Obama take credit for the war drawdowns in his recent "60 Minutes" interview and simultaneously blame their fiscal and economic effects on someone else.
The United States has now been in a "recovery" period for more than three and a half years. It has been governed by a president who championed and signed a massive stimulus package, promising not only to add 3 to 4 million jobs, but also to create the kinds of work and industries that would put the U.S. on a firmer footing for the future. Obama also signed a national health care law that he repeatedly assured Americans was key to a robust and lasting economic recovery.
Instead, Americans now discover that in spite of (or, perhaps more properly, because of) Obama's having served an entire term in office, we are no closer to economic recovery than we were when the economy stopped receding. Absent war spending to inflate the gross domestic product, we're on the verge of another recession.
With the next round of job numbers due Friday morning it is worth reflecting on the lack of gains in Obama's first term. Based on the December numbers, there are fewer Americans between the ages of 25 to 54 working today than there were when the recession ended -- and in fact, fewer working than there were in 1997. As we have noted here in the past, employment gains have come mostly among senior citizens returning to the workforce or holding on to jobs because they find themselves in no position to retire.
Having already shot the single bullet in his stimulus gun, Obama seems unarmed and without any plan that doesn't involve casting blame on others and dividing an already divided nation for political gain.