ANALYSIS: Obama’s 2014 strategy — my economy sucks

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Obamacare has proved so disastrous to President Barack Obama that he’s going to begin the New Year by shooting political nails into his head.

He’ll try to distract the public from his painful Obamacare takeover by doing something even more painful — showing how he has mismanaged the economy and left 20 million Americans unemployed or underemployed amid a Wall Street boom.

Of course, in the run-up to the 2014 election, he’ll try to blame his mismanagement on the GOP’s post-2010, partly-effective opposition to his post-2008 regulations and policies.

The daring “you’re-responsible-for-my-failed-policies” strategy, however, depends utterly on cooperation from the establishment media. So it is being pitched as a noble campaign against unfairness, or “economic inequality.”

“I believe this is the defining challenge of our time,” Obama declared in a December speech, which was delivered while Obamcare sank his poll ratings below 40 percent. “It drives everything I do in this office,” he announced Dec. 4, two week before he jetted off for a two week golfing vacation in Hawaii.

“There is no greater challenge this country has than income inequality, and we must do something about it,” Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid also said in December.

The “something” Obama and Reid are offering consists of two small steps.

The first supposed fix is an $25 billion extension of unemployment benefits for people who have been jobless for at lest six months. The second supposed fix is a boost in the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour.

Obama doesn’t have much else to distract Americans before they go to the polls and — if current polls were to hold steady — elect GOP majorities in the House and the Senate.

Obamacare has delivered commercial health-care policies to 2 million customers out of a population of 310 million, but also cancelled policies held by 5 million Americans. The network is expected to spur more public opposition in 2014 as Americans recognize the limits on their increasingly expensive Obama-approved insurance policies.

Foreign policy doesn’t bear mentioning. Al-Qaida is overrunning cities in Iraq that were guarded until Obama pulled U.S. forces out a more peaceful Iraq in 2010. The Arab world is sucked into the merciless civil war in Syria, and the supposed nuclear deal with Iran has stalled.

Immigration policies could spur increased Latino turnout if Democrats can paint the GOP as racist for opposing the Senate’s very unpopular immigration bill that would double the inflow of immigrants and guest workers into a stalled economy.

But economic inequality is also a tough sell when Obama has been in the White House for five years, and the Democrats have controlled the Senate on each and every day of his tenure.

He’s overseen the “Quantitative Easing” policy that spiked Wall Street stocks owned by wealthy Americans, and touted the various economic and immigration policies that have frozen poorer Americans’ income.

“Top 1 percent incomes grew by 31.4 percent while bottom 99 percent incomes grew only by 0.4 percent from 2009 to 2012,” said a September report by Emmanuel Saez, a left-wing economist at the University of California’s Berkeley campus.

Obama’s June 2012 mini amnesty, dubbed the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” got Latino votes in 2012 by providing work permits for at least 567,000 illegal immigrants.

He’s even backed the Senate’s ambitious immigration rewrite, which would exacerbate the income gap. A June study by the Congressional Budget Office said the bill would reduce average income for a decade, and boost investors’ wealth: “The rate of return on capital would be higher [than for labor] under the legislation than under current law throughout the next two decades,” said the CBO report.

To focus the media and the public on income inequality, Obama and Reid will immediately push for an extension to unemployment insurance, and for an increase to the minimum wage, partly because both proposals score well in polls.

Neither Reid nor Obama tried to get the extension into the December bipartisan budget deal, because they want a public fight in January to shift the focus from Obamacare.

Since 2009, Obama has periodically urged a minimum-wage boost, but he’s never pushed the GOP, or offered a trade, to get the increase. But because of Obamacare, this year will be different.

There’s little evidence that GOP leaders want to block an extension of unemployment insurance — they just want the extra spending to be offset by other cuts. But that stance allows the Democrats to reject any cuts and use a cooperative media to paint the GOP as obstructionist.

“We would clearly consider it as long as long as it’s paid for and as long as there are other efforts that will help get our economy moving once again,” GOP Speaker of the House John Boehner said in early December.

GOP senators will try to block the minimum-wage increase, partly because the GOP’s business wing is strongly opposed to a minimum-wage increase.

But the GOP’s base is split. A minimum wage increase is supported by 50 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of swing voters, plus 85 percent of Democrats, according to a December poll by The Washington Post. Half of the respondents think it should be $9 or below; half think it should be more than $9.

Inequality “is growing and the middle class is more frustrated with it,” Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer told the Huffington Post. “It’s huge. It’s huge. It affects many more people. Seventy-five percent of all people have [health] insurance and they’re basically happy with it [but] when middle-class incomes decline, it affects the broad majority of Americans.”

Rationally, the GOP is trying to keep the focus on Obamacare, and to blame Obama for the crummy economy. “@BarackObama & Democrats’ reckless liberal agenda is creating greater income inequality – not solving it,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted Jan. 5.

But both parties want to build enthusiasm prior to the November election, and they’re eager to claim symbolic wins and avoid symbolic losses. So expect a furious Democratic and media offensive to pass both measures —- and a GOP effort to win a compromise they can portray as a victory.

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