The Limits of Obamapower

The Limits of Obamapower


President Obama began campaigning this week – but not for re-election.

Instead, he was out promoting steps his administration will take to put a struggling economy back on track. After weeks of encouraging congressional leaders to “pass this bill” Obama has decided “we can’t wait.”  So, he’s going it alone.

On Monday, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced new rules that will help troubled homeowners refinance their mortgages.

According to The Washington Post’s Zachary A. Goldfarb:

“The announcement is a revision to the Home Affordable Refinance Program, which was rolled out in 2009 to help millions of borrowers refinance at lower interest rates. That program fell far short of expectations, in part because borrowers who owed 25 percent more than their home’s value did not qualify for refinancing. The new rules eliminate the cap on debt, opening up the program to millions more homeowners. The original program ‘reached 822,000, less than a tenth of whom have been significantly underwater borrowers.'”

Tuesday, Obama continued the drumbeat, announcing a jobs plan specifically for veterans.  The plan encourages community health centers to hire 8,000 military veterans in the next three years and offers priority grants to higher education institutions that train veterans to become physician’s assistants.

And on Wednesday, the president announced a program aimed specifically at young Americans, many hardest hit by the economic downturn: a “pay as you earn” plan to allow college graduates to cap federal student loan repayments at 10 percent of discretionary income.

Pundits and analysts are already dissecting the actual impact of the policies, claiming, for example, that the housing effort amounts to $26 in savings a month for some families, $174 short of the amount touted by the Obama Administration.

While the primary purpose of these efforts is all about providing relief to those who need it, by freeing up their capital and jump starting the economy, there is no denying the secondary political purpose.  By doing what he can through executive action, President Obama expresses a sense of urgency that can no longer be communicated through words alone.

These executive actions might also help Americans understand where the president’s responsibility ends and where congress’ role begins.

If, for example, “everything” the president can do on housing amounts to $26 a month per homeowner, or 8,000 new jobs for veterans, it will force Americans to lean more heavily on congress to pass bigger and better reforms.  For all the naysayers belly-aching about how the American Jobs Act would “only” create a million jobs, the scope of that legislation will seem down-right epic in proportion to what the president is able to do alone.

Finally, by breaking the Jobs Act down into consumable pieces, the Obama team is absolving this legislation of the usual thousand-page stigma that haunts most ambitious federal proposals.  And it sets up an uncomfortable narrative for Republicans who are now faced with an image problem. Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan report in Politico how House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is taking pains to reconfigure his wounded image: The Virginia Republican has been portrayed as an insensitive, combative conservative who wants to withhold disaster relief from the storm stricken and protect Wall Street from the “mobs” who occupy it. So now Cantor is trying to rehab his public image. The No. 2 House Republican wants to show he’s a serious lawmaker who’s curious about policy and has been unfairly vilified by the left while trying to find common ground with Democrats. Cantor is allowing CBS News’s “60 Minutes” cameras into his life, filming his three children and wife to show that he’s not the hard-line ideologue that has become the object of Democratic caricature. He’s invited the “60 Minutes” cameras to spend Thanksgiving with his family .  But, Thanksgiving dinners aside, the point – really – is who doesn’t want to get behind helping out struggling home-owners?  Who wants their children to be saddled with student loans they can’t afford? Who would get in the way of placing our best and our bravest in quality jobs?

These administrative moves aren’t a substitute for the bipartisan action we need to grow the economy, but they could be the tipping point to inspire reticent Republican leaders to do the right thing.


  1. "These administrative moves aren’t a substitute for the bipartisan action we need to grow the economy, but they could be the tipping point to inspire reticent Republican leaders to do the right thing."

    let's hope…

  2. Keep on spending exorbitantly in a futile attempt to stimulate the economy or retrench and rethink and leave the growing to the growers? That's the question here, Mazz, despite your talking point recital.

    Incidentally, mark me down for retrench and rethink. Our exalted leader has no clue how to stimulate the economy (and it's not his fault; I don't believe that government CAN stimulate the economy, other than via tax policy to incentivize business to re-invest) other than by hiring people with our tax dollars (after taking overhead off the top) and tossing to friendly businesses. That ain't working.

    You may want to consider that we have an example of what happens when countries follow Obama's plan. Check out what's happening in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and France. It's not a pretty picture, but it's exactly what he wants to emulate.