“The most important thing Obama can do to win back independents is improve the economy,” says Darrell West, a government scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “People are very worried about jobs.... Prosperity would do a lot to reduce the populist anger that we’ve seen around the country.”
The House passed a $154 billion jobs bill in December, just on Democratic votes; Senate Democrats may now believe passing similar legislation is beyond reach. Though the Obama administration says the first stimulus package of $787 billion saved 2 million jobs, many Americans are skeptical. Republicans argue for bigger and more effective tax cuts, not more deficit spending.
Even if presidents can’t create jobs outright, they can help foster public confidence in the future, and if people are confident, they will spend more, says Mr. West, who notes that consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the economy.
When Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Jan. 27, the economy is expected to be front and center, with jobs as issue No. 1 but also with a focus on fiscal solvency.
On Tuesday, the White House and congressional Democrats agreed tentatively to create an independent, bipartisan budget commission, which would look broadly at the tax code and entitlements. Congress would vote on its recommendations after the fall elections.