The latest jobless tally released in the US last week offered scant hope to the 15million souls without work, or the 10m others who can’t find the full-time employment they desire.
In fact, the figures offered little hope to anyone — except of course, the Republican party.
Two years on from the official pronouncement that the Great Recession was over, new claims for unemployment benefits stood at 428,000 last week.
It’s all a bad news lullaby that surely must send Republican presidential wannabes like Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann and Co to the land of nod each night with sweet dreams of their inevitable move to 1600 Pennsylvania |Avenue after the 2012 election. Barring a dramatic economic about-face in the next 16 months, the Republican standard-bearer is all but certain to win the White House next year.
And if that happens, he or |she, will be hugely indebted to congressional Republicans, whose partisan stalling and obstructionist tactics slapped down Obama’s ‘yes we can’ change mantra with an emphatic ‘no you won’t’ response.
Since Obama took office in January 2009, Republicans have shunned his repeated attempts to court their co-operation. They fought his 2009 economic stimulus package to the point where the $787bn (£490bn) finished product fell far short of what many economists (and the likes of Bill Clinton) felt was needed.
Likewise on healthcare reform and the overhauling of financial sector rules and regulation.
In each case, Republicans succeeded in getting the Democrats and Obama to agree to diluted measures that don’t tackle root problems, while allowing Republicans to rail about ‘out of control’ government expansion. All along, including when Democrats ruled the congressional roost during Obama’s first two years, Republicans have bluffed their way to achieving major concessions — and even victory — on a host of issues.
Republicans want draconian cuts in entitlement programs, like the social security pension system and Medicare insurance for the elderly.
Many economists have warned that deep budget cuts without some accompanying tax hikes could stall the economy even further and spark a dreaded double-dip recession.
Democrats agree that billions in annual cuts have to be made. But they also want to end Bush-era tax cuts for the super-wealthy and tax loopholes for US corporations that use their overseas subsidiaries to avoid paying their full share of US taxes.
And in spite of Republicans’ staunch opposition to taxing the rich, polls show broad public backing for the idea. One recent CBS News/New York Times poll found 72% support for hiking taxes on households making more than $250,000 (£156,000) annually.
What is certain is that with the first presidential primaries a little more than six months away, entrenchment at this point is smart politics.
And Barack Obama knows it. Savvy enough to snatch the Oval Office keys in 2008 when most |of his party’s powerbrokers |were busy preparing for Hillary |Clinton’s ‘inevitable’ coronation, he knows well the multi-layered subtexts of political gamesmanship.
At the end of the day, however, much as he might publicly chide Republicans for their obstinacy, Obama knows well what lies at the core of the debt ceiling/deficit stand-off: it’s about winning the White House, stupid.