Experts Grade Obama ‘C-Minus’ on the Economy
Policy + Politics

Experts Grade Obama ‘C-Minus’ on the Economy

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President Obama says that “We’ve gone through an incredibly difficult time in this country,” and no one should be surprised that there is widespread public displeasure with his stewardship of the economy.

With his public approval rating stuck in the mid-40 percent range, Obama told Steve Kroft of CBS’s “60 Minutes” last weekend, “I’m being judged against the ideal. And you know [Vice President] Joe Biden has a good expression. He says, ‘Don’t judge me against the Almighty, judge me against the alternative.’”

But while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney slug it out to determine who that Republican alternative will be, The Fiscal Times turned to its panel of economic, political and public policy experts to assess Obama’s performance in handling the economy and foreign policy. And not surprisingly, while the president gets relatively high grades for his handling of the wars and eliminating Osama bin Laden, his grades for handling the economy are dismal, with a cumulative average of only a C-minus.

The president’s grades on the economy range from an “F” from Kenneth J. Kies, a former Republican top aide of the House Ways and Means Committee, and a “D” from University of Virginia political expert Larry Sabato, to a “B” from Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics and a “B-plus” from Democratic public policy consultant Richard Goodstein.

Hope and change turned
out to be an inadequate
prescription for coping
with the economic crisis.

Obama delivered “no meaningful accomplishments to address the unemployment numbers,” said Kies, now managing director of the Federal Policy Group, a Washington tax consulting organization. “He was completely AWOL on helping the Super Committee accomplish its job to cut the 10-year deficit at least $1.2 trillion to the point of not just leaving the country at the most critical point in its deliberations but actually going to the farthest place away from D.C possible. ”  Kies was unhappy that Obama was traveling extensively in in Asia and Australia while the Super Committee was spinning its wheels back in Washington.

Sabato said that Obama learned the hard way that “it isn’t as easy as it looked on the 2008 campaign trail” and that “Hope and Change turned out to be an inadequate prescription” for coping with the economic crisis. “About the only thing the right and the left can agree on is that President Obama hasn’t fulfilled his promise of economic restoration,” Sabato said.

“Without [Obama’s] fiscal
stimulus efforts, the
unexpected surge in oil
and other commodity prices
during the spring could
have easily upended the recovery.”

In contrast, Zandi gave the administration a solid “B” for economic and budget policy in 2011, noting that the payroll tax holiday and emergency unemployment insurance programs that were put in place late last year – and that will expire unless Congress agrees to extend them  --  “were key to keeping the economic recovery together as well as it was kept together during the year.”

“Without those fiscal stimulus efforts, the unexpected surge in oil and other commodity prices during the spring could have easily upended the recovery,” Zandi added.

Goodstein, a veteran Washington government affairs adviser and former Democratic Hill aide, said, “All unbiased economists and observers seem convinced beyond doubt that the [stimulus package] helped prevent far worse unemployment and economic deterioration,” although “the hole was obviously much bigger than what Congress would approve.“

“Conservatives would have
been happy to test Milton
Friedman's theories: let
the workers, the auto
company suppliers, and all
the towns supported by
the industry be damned.”

“Saving the auto industry was a serious accomplishment,” Goodstein added, “against the arguments of doctrinaire conservatives who would have been happy to test Milton Friedman's theories:  let the workers, the auto company suppliers, and all the towns supported by the industry be damned.”

With unemployment still at an unacceptably high 8.6 percent, the economy growing at a glacial pace of 2 percent per year, consumer confidence still woefully in the tank, and the White House and congressional Republicans perpetually locked in mortal combat over budget, entitlement and tax policy, the president has a giant sales job to do to convince voters he deserves a second term. .

Obama frequently points out on the campaign trail that he inherited one of the worst economies in modern history from a Republican administration, and that through massive intervention by his administration, Congress and the Federal Reserve Board, the government was able to stabilize the economy and put it back on a path of slow but consistent growth.

“They [the public] shouldn’t feel satisfied,” Obama told CBS’s Kroft. “We’ve got a lot more work to do in order to get this country and the economy moving in a way that benefits everybody, as opposed to just a few.”

When the topic shifts to foreign policy, it’s a much different story for Obama.  With bin Laden’s remains at the bottom of the ocean, Libyan dictator Moammar Kadafi toppled and killed by revolutionaries, and the last of the U.S. combat troops in Iraq scheduled to come home  by Christmas, Obama was rated “B” or better by practically all TFT experts.

Summing up the views of many, veteran pollster John Zogby said, “America's image has suffered overseas, especially in the Arab world, but Obama has several accomplishments. He is at least giving the appearance of ending one war (Iraq) and has plans to end another. Despite criticism, he has handled both Libya and Egypt with perfect pitch. The U.S. could not have fingerprints on these revolts, nor could the U.S. have become involved in either the Iranian or Syrian revolts.”

“He has made serious inroads in a trade and security wall around China,” Zogby noted. “There is now a Russian Spring and Obama, forever a symbol of a new generation of Americans … is correctly acting where he can while letting events play themselves out where they must.”

President ObamaÕs 2011 Report Card

HereÕs how 12 Fiscal Times experts graded President ObamaÕs performance this year on the economy and foreign policy:



Foreign Policy

Steve Bell, budget expert



David Francis, journalist



Richard Goodstein, policy consultant



George Hager, editorial writer



Bill Hoagland, corporate policy adviser



Kenneth Kies, tax consultant



Larry Sabato, political analyst



Mark Thoma, economist



Eric Ueland, lobbyist



David Walker, fiscal reform advocate



Mark Zandi, economist



John Zogby, pollster



Cumulative Grade:



Here’s a summary of the views of the 12 experts on Obama’s handling of the economy:

Steve Bell, a Senior Director at the Bipartisan Policy Center and top aide to former Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M.
Grade: D-

“Obama failed to endorse any specific short-term growth/long-term deficit reduction package, including his rejection of the recommendations of his own fiscal commission, coupled with submission of budgets that abjectly failed to take major fiscal reform. He failed to acknowledge and take specific actions to lessen extraordinary regulation of certain job-producing sectors—especially in the energy sector.To quote several very prominent Democrats who work with me here at the Bipartisan Policy Center, the President has been simply AWOL on the economy and on energy.” 

David Francis, Fiscal Times correspondent and veteran international journalist.
Grade: D

“The near- failure to raise the debt ceiling was a disaster. He's failed to compel Europe to take swift action to stop the euro zone crisis while angering Europeans with his constant prodding. The only reason I don't fail him is that the U.S. economy is showing signs of tepid recovery, which is better than nothing. The Republicans made it nearly impossible to get much done, but that's not an excuse. Obama knows politics aren't graded on a curve. There's no such thing as a gentleman's C.”

Richard Goodstein, founder of Goodstein & Associates, a Washington government affairs advisory firm.
Grade: B+

“Ending a situation in which the U.S. was the only developed country without universal healthcare is a huge feat, something that was almost a century in the works, and that could not have gotten done unless the POTUS was single-minded about it in his first year.  Once the bugs in the system are worked out, the U.S. economy will be far more efficient,  thanks to the mobility of workers who are currently stuck in jobs solely to receive health benefits ( and not having preexisting conditions as an obstacle to securing insurance will also result in greater efficiency throughout the workforce as well).  We could have spent the next decade debating precisely what the ideal reforms, supported by both parties would be, but in the meantime costs would have doubled again, and all of the other problems in the system would have gotten worse.”

George Hager, a member of the USA Today editorial board and Fiscal Times blogger.
Grade: C

“If he were graded only on results, this would have been a D-minus, escaping an F only because there was a deal on the debt limit that averted national catastrophe. Obama got budget religion pretty late in the game, but give him credit -- when he got it, he pretty much got it. He lost points for failing to take the issue seriously for too long, for producing inadequate budgets and for failing to embrace the Bowles-Simpson plan sooner than he did. But he got points back for eventually producing a more credible fiscal plan and backing a form of Bowles-Simpson in the failed negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Note that we're not grading Boehner, Grover Norquist and the GOP, whose opposition  to raising taxes is less a policy than an obsession that makes serious achievement impossible.”

G. William Hoagland, Vice President of Public Policy for CIGNA Corporation and former staff director for the Senate Budget Committee.
Grade: C-

“Three reasons I would give the President a C- (1) Health Care Reform, while on paper it might be scored as reducing the deficit over the long-term, I do not believe that the "fundamental" changes needed to Medicare and Medicaid were embodied in the law and therefore, the law will add to entitlement spending going forward while the proposed revenues or gimmicks (CLASS) will not transpire. (2) I was very discouraged that he seemed to step away from the Super Committee after releasing his budget in September.  I recognize the argument that was a Congressional committee but he could have shown more leadership in helping move his proposals to achieve some minimal deficit reduction if not the full $1.2 trillion. And (3) I’m not sure it was his doings, but I was embarrassed for my old friend the Secretary of the Treasury going to an EU or G-7 meeting telling Europe they needed to get their fiscal house in order -- unh?”

Kenneth Kies,  Managing Director of the Federal Policy Group  and a former Republican House Ways and Means Committee chief of staff.
Grade: F

Kies faulted the president on his failure to bring down unemployment and for leaving the country during the last eight days of the Super Committee’s deliberations. Obama returned from his trip to Asia and Australia just as the bipartisan panel was announcing that it had failed to reach agreement on a $1.2 trillion long-term deficit reduction package.
Larry J. Sabato, Director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
Grade: D

“The stimulus can be argued forever (was it too big? was it too small?) but one thing's for sure: It didn't work as advertised. When the best the administration can say about a program is that things would be so much worse than they are without it, you know it wasn't a roaring success.”

Mark Thoma, a Fiscal Times columnist and University of Oregon economics professor.
Grade: B-

“He has not done enough to promote job creation policies, and what he has done has been both too little and too late. In addition, his pivot to deficit reduction and austerity over the last year or so was a big mistake both politically and economically.  However, he has faced difficult political constraints. Republicans stand in the way of more aggressive countercyclical and job creation policies, making it difficult to get anything done, and that is the reason the grade is not lower.”

Eric Ueland, a vice president of the Duberstein Group, a Washington lobbying firm, and chief of staff to former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.
Grade: D

“GDP growth is anemic, and neither the stimulus nor the natural rebound after a steep drop is having appreciable impact—which leaves spending on support programs quite high and revenue levels a historically low. There’s no thoughtful analysis from the administration as to why that is, much less policies to create better conditions for significant job creation and economic expansion as the economy continues at such a slow pace.  Slow growth that feels like no growth keeps those employed apprehensive they may lose their job and no longer be able to make their mortgage payment, pay for their kids’ education, or help their parents handle medical challenges, making the middle class even more uneasy; and of course, those who lose a job and then become the long-term unemployed become even more alienated. “

David M. Walker, founder and CEO of the Comeback American Initiative, former President and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, and former U.S. Comptroller General.  
Grade: C-
“The President failed to provide timely leadership in connection with the Simpson/Bowles Commission Report.  The President has not been effective in making the case to address both our short-term economic/employment and structural fiscal/other challenges in a timely and integrated manner.

Mark Zandi, Chief Economist of Moody’s Analytics.
Grade: B

“The payroll tax holiday and emergency Unemployment Insurance programs were key to keeping the economic recovery together as well as it was kept together during the year.  .  . The administration also put forward a number of changes to housing policy that should be helpful . . . . The administration fell short on budget policy when the government was brought to the brink during the summer over the increase in the Treasury debt ceiling.  This did serious damage to the collective psyche and economy.  Congress is equally to blame for this spectacle, but the bottom line is that the political acrimony was unnerving.”

John Zogby, President and CEO of the Zogby International polling firm.
Grade: C-

“Obama has clearly had legislative achievements -- stimulus, health care, banking/finance reform -- but there is yet to be a sense that problems have been solved. He promised a better Washington, D.C., and has allowed the system to overwhelm him. But, to be fair, key economic indicators are pointing now in the right direction and perhaps, in the future, historians will look at Obama as having, like Lincoln, overcome hardened political opposition, and like FDR, produced some progress on relief, recovery, and reform. But Americans living today are genuinely scared.”