WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – President Barack Obama is facing the stiffest political headwinds he has experienced since taking office 18 months ago as Americans sour on his handling of the U.S. economy.
Two opinion polls published yesterday painted a grim picture as the U.S. economy emerges from the financial crisis and its worst downturn since the 1930s.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed 54 percent of those surveyed disapproved of Obama’s economic stewardship. A CBS News survey had similar results with only 40 percent approving of Obama on the issue.
Public doubts about the ability of Obama and his Democrats to reduce the country’s 9.5 percent jobless rate have placed Democratic control of Congress in jeopardy with less than four months to go before elections on Nov. 2.
Even Democrats have conceded Republicans could pick up the 39 seats they need to win control of the House of Representatives. Republicans could also make big gains in the Senate, making it harder for Obama to advance his agenda like climate change legislation or immigration reform.
“Obama desperately needs some good news on the economy in September and October,” said University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato.
If there are no signs of improvement, he said, “things look grim for Democrats retaining control of the House.”
The disillusionment comes even as Obama has scored a number of legislative achievements this year, including an overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system and a retooling of Wall Street regulations that seems close to congressional approval.
But Obama’s achievements have led to questions about whether the cost of the new regulations will ultimately stifle job growth and slow the recovery from recession.
Obama is limited in how he can respond with no appetite in Congress for another economic package after the much-debated stimulus of more than $860 billion and lawmakers on both sides bickering over a jobs bill.
Democratic strategist Bob Shrum said Democrats need a unified narrative for the 2010 congressional election campaign — that Obama has made significant accomplishments but people are still hurting and much more remains to be done.
“You’ve got to set the choice. It can’t just be a choice between the future and the past, the ‘party of no’ and the ‘party of something.’ It’s got to be between what we stand for and what they stand for,” Shrum said.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents American businesses, has put the pressure on the government by expressing fears about “the new regulatory stranglehold placed on America’s job creators.”
The National Federation of Independent Business said the overhaul of financial rules would hit small businesses that had “nothing to do with the Wall Street meltdown.”
“You’ve got these companies sitting on trillions of dollars in cash,” said Karl Rove, architect of Republican George W. Bush’s two presidential victories. “Why are they not spending it? Because they are afraid of what’s coming and they don’t want to be left short.”