All In All, A Woeful Week For The White House

Aug 6, 2011

There's no such thing as an uneventful week at the White House. Yet even by the climactic standards of this presidency, the past week has been a big one.

President Obama might have hoped the biggest news story of the week would be his 50th birthday. Not even close.

When Monday dawned, it was still unclear whether the U.S. would run out of money to pay its bills. With hours to go until the deadline Tuesday, Congress finally passed a deal to raise the debt ceiling.

Obama announced the resolution in the White House Rose Garden.

"It's pretty likely that the uncertainty surrounding the raising of the debt ceiling, for both businesses and consumers, has been unsettling, and just one more impediment to the full recovery that we need," he said.

Before he even signed the debt-ceiling bill into law, Obama announced a hard pivot to focus on job creation: "There's already a quiet crisis going on in the lives of a lot of families, in a lot of communities all across the country," he said. "They're looking for work, and they have been for a while."

He urged Congress to pass some of the same policies he has been talking about for months. But it's not even clear that those initiatives could move job growth into high gear.

So how important is this turn to jobs? So important that economist Jared Bernstein, who used to be an adviser to Vice President Biden, felt compelled to pull out his Thesaurus.

"It's extremely, unbelievably, amazingly, exceedingly, extraordinarily and exceptionally important," says Bernstein, who's now with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. He says unemployment above 9 percent is not what anyone expected this late in President Obama's term.

"We used to describe the state of the economy as 'fragile' a few months ago," Bernstein says. "I think you've got to downgrade that to 'frail' at this point."

More evidence of that frailty would come as the week went on. But first, the president turned back to the re-election campaign that he had basically ignored for the past month.

At a sweaty, raucous rally in Chicago on Wednesday, the president tried to gin up some of the enthusiasm that had slipped away during the grinding, partisan debt talks.

"When I come to Chicago, when I travel across the country, I know we can't be stopped!" he told his supporters. He also spoke to thousands of volunteers across the country by videoconference. And before he flew home, he raked in piles of cash at a $35,800-a-plate dinner.

The president kept a low profile on Thursday, his birthday, while the stock market did the talking. The Dow fell more than 500 points — the worst drop in more than two years.

By the time the president stepped back in front of a microphone on Friday morning, many economists were openly talking about the likelihood of a double-dip recession.

"My singular focus is the American people," Obama said. "Getting the unemployed back on the job, lifting their wages, rebuilding that sense of security the middle class has felt slipping away for years."

New unemployment numbers showed that the economy created 117,000 jobs in July, the best month since April. But given how bad the past few months were for the economy, saying it was the best month since April is not saying much.

Friday ended with news that the credit-rating agency Standard and Poor's had downgraded the country's credit rating from AAA to AA-plus. The new rating could have a financial impact on Americans across the country. It's the first time in American history that the country's rating has been less than perfect.

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