His presidency tied to the fate of the economy, Barack Obama is revamping his economic policy team and signaling cooperation to ascendant Republicans and the business community at a pivotal moment in the nation’s recovery and Washington politics.
The president is surrounding himself with veterans of the Clinton administration. Chief of staff William Daley, economic overseer Gene Sperling and recently confirmed budget director Jacob Lew form an inner circle with a history of bipartisanship and experience in the art of the deal.
“Our mission has to be to accelerate hiring and accelerate growth,” the president declared Friday at a window manufacturing plant in suburban Maryland.
It’s a mission facing political and economic crosscurrents, underscored Friday by a mixed bag of an unemployment report and a relatively upbeat but cautionary assessment of the economy from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
The Labor Department said unemployment dropped to 9.4 percent from 9.8 percent and private employers added a net total of 103,000 jobs last month. But the drop in unemployment was due partly to people who stopped looking for work.
Bernanke told the Senate Budget Committee that there’s rising evidence that a self-sustaining recovery is taking hold. “Overall, the pace of economic recovery seems likely to be moderately stronger in 2011 than it was in 2010,” he said.
Continued high unemployment and slow growth into 2012 would certainly haunt Obama’s reelection campaign. But the ability to shape an economic policy is complicated by a divided Congress where Republicans are demanding deficit reductions while many Democrats seek more spending to spur the economy.
Obama has moved to have it both ways, and to appeal to Republicans and business leaders who find value in international trade deals. To that end, he is wielding an economic message centered on competitiveness that spends on education initiatives to retool the workforce, embraces trade and provides tax breaks to businesses.