Post Politics: Stimulus Spending, White House Expectations, More

Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 8, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post White House reporter Scott Wilson was online July 8 at 11 a.m. to discuss the latest news about the Obama administration, Congress and more.


Scott Wilson: Hey everyone. Glad you're all here. The president is in Italy talking global economy and global warming. Here we have rising concern over rising government spending and talk of another stimulus. And, of course, Sarah Palin. Let me get to your questions.


St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Scott -- I read somewhere in the last couple of days that President Obama's approval rating in Ohio, a key state that he took without much problem in the 2008 election but one also impacted by the bad economy, is taking a big hit. How concerned is the WH that this is part of a larger problem -- namely, people are starting to lose faith in his leadership (not to mention the impact on the upcoming midterm elections)?

Scott Wilson: Thanks for this important question, and I'd point you right off to my colleague Dan Balz's "Take" today, which talks about the Ohio poll you cite. It does show a sharp drop in both his approval rating and in his handling of the economy, especially among independents. I have not yet talked to White House advisers about this specific poll, mainly because the ones to reach are overseas at the moment. But I wrote a few weeks ago about rising concerns within the White House about their consensus view that big spending and few results in the economy is their big vulnerability. Ohio, bellwether of bellwethers, seems to be underscoring their concern. It seems though that the president is all in with health care as a remedy to government budget problems and, to a degree, economic recovery. Ohio seems unsure, and the White House must be worried.


Richmond, Va.: While it is true that Biden "does gaffes," I can't figure out why his saying the economy's problems were deeper than we anticipated was so wrong, and that Obama seemed to scramble to undo that statement. First, if you think it shows that Obama and his economists didn't see all the problems, yeah, you would think it was a gaffe. On the other hand, how could anyone know the extent of the problems by the time Obama took office? I feel that that statement of Biden's gives Obama cover for the seemingly building impatience for the pace of the recovery. Any thoughts?

Scott Wilson: Well, there was a little more made of this than meets the eye. The "misreading" Biden referred to was specific to the fact that the fourth quarter of 2008 GDP figures were released after the administration took office and showed a far greater contraction that the previous estimate (thus, the Obama correction that the administration didn't misread so much as not have all the information it needed.)This has been noted before. But I do think you are right - Obama is worried and frustrated by the slow pace of stimulus spending as the clock ticks toward the mid-terms and a jobless recovery expected (if recovery at all.) He travels to Michigan and Missouri next week; expect lots of talk about the economy, stimulus and the need for patience.


Fairfax County, Va.: The Uighur - Han Chinese deaths in Western China are a horrifying example of a state unable to handle dissent or ethnic conflicts except at the point of a gun. I see that the Chinese leader has had to cancel attendance at the G-8 due to this situation. Can President Obama still visit China, given the situation? Should he? I believe he was supposed to do so later this summer. Seems like, as with Iran, it's hard to stay out of it but only bad things can result from blundering into it with comments we don't intend to back up with force.

Sure glad we sent our Uighur detainees to Bermuda and Palau though, not home to be slaughtered. (Did they ever actually go to Palau?)

Scott Wilson: Interesting question and a very good point. The president has said very little about the situation in Western China, although I'm sure he will be pressured to say more once he returns. The death toll is very, very high -- far higher than in Iran, obviously, though the unrest poses no direct challenge to the Communist Party's authority. I'll be interested to see what Obama says and how they proceed with the trip later this year. As for the Uighurs who were in Guantanamo, I do believe they have been sent to Palau, as well as Bermuda.


Bethesda, Md.: Submitting early -- I am really surprised that the Obama administration is not "marketing" the health care reform more forcefully. Republicans seem to be gaining control of their message which is that health care reform is too costly; consequently, it can't be done.

Scott Wilson: Yep, good point. At some point, in my mind, Obama will have to really take control of the issue, now being largely dictated by Congress. It's hard to sell a plan when one hasn't been developed yet, and especially on an issue as complicated as this one. How do his OFA volunteers actually knock on doors and "sell" health care reform when the reform itself has not been developed? I think this will likely change once a consensus bill emerges, if not before then.


20515: Out of curiosity, how does that fact that the Post was the target of what appears to be a North Korean cyber attack affect the reporting of the incident? No complaints about the coverage - the article this morning was good -- but does it create problems when the company is part of the story? North Korea Suspected in Cyberattack

Scott Wilson: No, not really (we're unfortunately been a part of stories that are more directly involved in recent days....) We just try to be as clear about how it has affected us as possible, and of course the people on this story are quite good.


A different Richmond: Did anyone seriously expect Obama to come in and fix everything in 6 months?! Just looking at any past recessions would indicate that it will take a while to recover. That's a reality about national economic cycles, not Obama's abilities.

Scott Wilson: It is kind of amazing what we expect and how quickly we expect it...I'm not sure anyone thought he would, but given the 24-hour cable news cycle and our cultural impatience in general, we have set it up as something we expected so we have something to talk about....We in the media have to be careful to hold the administration to the standards (ie, promises made, etc.) it set for itself, not those we set for it.


Stone Harbor, N.J: Why is the Post not reporting on the uptick in deaths of our servicemen in Afghanistan in the past few days? Was Michael Jackson too important, or is it because it's Obama's war now?

Scott Wilson: I disagree with the premise....we have had at least three major front-page articles on Afghanistan in the past two weeks, including an excellent look at the just-started offensive in the south. We're devoting a lot of resources to the story, even more than during the previous administration precisely because of Obama's escalation of the war there.


Honduras question: Why is the US supporting a socialist like Zelaya, who has the backing of Castro and Chavez?

Scott Wilson: Because he was democratically elected....that easy.


Long Island, N.Y.: Scott,

Do the moderate Senate Democrats have the will for a future second stimulus? It seems that the President can only go the well so many times, especially if the results from the first stimulus are mixed.

In addition, what flavor of health-care reform do you think we will get this summer? Seems a public option would be a reach.

Scott Wilson: In my opinion, given that energy and health care reform legislation are consuming much of the political capital on the Hill, I'd say no, they don't have the will. And as Biden said Sunday, and Obama reiterated a few days ago, the next four months will be crucial for Stimulus I, as the spending increases (projects go from planning to hiring and construction.) I doubt there would be real talk of a second stimulus by this president until early next year, if at all. As for health care, truthfully, I just don't know. Now that Obama has left the door open for a bill without the public option, you may be right.


Moorhead, Minn.: "Ohio seems unsure, and the White House must be worried." Citation that the White House is worried or is this just speculation? I would think the White House would have factored in that their numbers would start to drop. Obama has taken a longer view, that the stimulus will take awhile to work, so I think that it's a little early for the White House to be worried about polls now. Also, there has to be someone that has a reasonable chance of winning in opposition to Obama.

The GOP bench is very thin right now, with flawed candidates and a bruising primary. If I were the White House, I would hold off on worrying for awhile.

Scott Wilson: Point taken, and as I noted, I am speculating about White House worry about this poll in particular. But given that they have been worried for a few weeks now about the pace of economic recovery and polls showing that most Americans do not like the way he is handling the economy or the federal budget my speculation is based on some evidence. But you're right: don't the Republicans have to present a viable alternative in policy and in a candidate before the White House really worries?


Richmond, Va.: Just like my state of Virginia, I am rather "purple" in my politics. Sometimes I like the Dems and sometimes the Reps.

My frustration with the stimulus is: We have borrowed a large amount of money...where are the bridges and schools that were supposed to be built? The new roads? The 3 million new jobs? Perhaps it is too early to call it, but as of now this stimulus seems like a flop to me. Does my opinion of the stimulus having growing and strengthening political legs?

Scott Wilson: Yes, your sentiment is gaining currency. But to play the devil's advocate: Roads and bridges do not get built in five months. They get planned and bid. Now, in theory, the job creation is supposed to begin. So I would probably tell you to watch the next five months or so, and then decide whether stimulus was a boon to the economy or bust.


Because he was democratically elected....that easy. : So was Hammas ...what is the difference there?

Scott Wilson: Excellent point...I covered the Hamas election, incidentally, and the Bush administration cut off the entire Palestinian Authority after it won the elections (in 2006) and urged other nations to do the same (effectively). This was hugely disappointing to the Palestinians, even those at the time who supported Fatah. The Obama administration has maintained that policy -- so to answer you question, no difference in terms of each being democratically elected, but big difference in U.S. support. You have identified what appears to be a bit of hypocrisy in U.S. foreign policy (shocking!). Seriously, though, thanks for pointing this out. And if Obama does want to clear the air on issues like this, maybe he'll take up the question of democratically elected Islamist movements (and armed ones like Hamas, which is on the US terrorist list, unlike Zelaya) and how the United States recognizes them.

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Scott Wilson: For the previous questioner, here are some links to our recent Afghan war stories. I'm being told by our helpful moderator that they were in fact very difficult to find on our website. So I can understand how you missed them.


Washington, D.C.: "Did anyone seriously expect Obama to come in and fix everything in 6 months?!"

Yes, because Obama and his acolytes created the expectation. That's why there was such a rush to pass legislation that nobody had the time (or the desire) to read and why good money was thrown after bad money. When you make non-credible claims of "millions of jobs saved" (whatever THAT means), then you create unrealistic expectations. It's just plain wrong for anybody to claim that Obama didn't set himself up for this. He won't come even close to the expectations he created, and I sincerely hope that the Democrats get hit hard in the 2010 midterms for this. Maybe then we won't have a multi-trillion deficit and increased taxes.

Scott Wilson: Here's an interesting counter-point to my comment about Obama and expectations...


The First Stimulus: Many so-called "Centrists" eviscerated the first stimulus's support for state and local governments. The results are in the headlines, especially California. Are these "Centrists" aware that they are highly responsible for the damage?

Scott Wilson: This is an excellent point. I'm not sure if they are aware or unaware. But the plight states find themselves in -- led by my home state, California, now paying bills with IOUs -- has certainly undermined the planned effects of the stimulus spending. This is one reason why some senior Obama economic advisers said at the time that the stimulus should be twice as big as it was.


Maybe I've lived too long....: It's not surprising to me that the media, both left and right media, are held in so low esteem. The idea that any President, inheriting an economic debacle of this magnitude, is given six months to fix it before we have reporters breathlessly stating he is slipping in the polls, is depressing. It took Reagan's tax cuts and other economic recovery policies a couple of years before things started to turn around. In fact unemployment rose for 16 straight months after passage of his tax cuts passed, peaking at 10.2%. Fortunately, for Obama, no-one outside of Washington pays any attention to you guys anymore.

Scott Wilson: I actually thought this was the point I made, but as a result you certainly prove your point: No one listens to us anymore...


"where are the bridges and schools that were supposed to be built?": Are you sure that you just not noticing them? I believe it was Beohner a couple days ago embarrassed for asking the same question and having the newspapers answer -- um, there's about 6 of them happening right now in your district and, by the way, you were at the groundbreaking for a few of them!

Scott Wilson: Indeed, some construction has certainly started. We're all suppose to be able to follow every step of this on the White House website:


A second round of stimulus: Politically easy method: payroll tax cut. GOP doesn't like it because it only affects first 100K of earnings, but it is a tax cut. It goes straight to middle and working class. May help offset the increased savings rate of same.

Scott Wilson: This came up during the first stimulus debate. I'll be interested to see if the Democrats or Republicans champion it instead of going for a second plan heavy with spending.


Scott Wilson: Thanks very much to everyone for the lively chat. Hope to join you again soon.


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