Monday, June 18, 2012
What is it with Barack Obama and 27 months? Listen to the president and his aides talk, and you'll soon hear claims that the administration has accomplished great things in the last 27 months
"The private sector creat(ed) nearly 4.3 million new jobs in the last 27 months," the president said at a fundraiser in Baltimore recently.
"We have created 500,000 manufacturing jobs over the last 27 months," top Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling said at the same time on CNN.
"We've had 4.3 million private-sector jobs created over the last 27 months," Obama campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said in a conference call with reporters a day earlier.
There are plenty of other examples. Beyond that, whenever Mitt Romney or some other Republican attacks the president's record, the Obama campaign sends out reams of rebuttal material pointing to economic progress -- all in the last 27 months.
The problem, of course, is that Barack Obama has been president for 40 months. So why do he and his supporters speak as if he has only been in the White House for the last 27 -- that is, since March 2010? It's as if the first third of Obama's presidency just doesn't count.
Obviously, the president is trying to make his record look better; his first months in the White House saw devastating job losses and economic misery. Yet most of what Obama accomplished domestically also occurred in that unmentioned period.
In fact, March 2010 just happened to be the month in which the president's signature achievement, the national health care program known as Obamacare, became law.
It came at a time when Americans were desperate for Obama to devote all of his attention to fixing the economy and helping create jobs. What is sometimes forgotten today is that, at the time, the president and his allies in Congress argued that passing Obamacare was, in fact, the most important thing they could do to create jobs.
Democrats had wanted to pass national health care for generations. But faced with a terrible economic crisis, they were pressed to explain why they were spending time on health care rather than the economy. So after passing the $826 billion stimulus in February 2009 (another accomplishment of the lost period that sometimes goes unmentioned), they began to argue that passing the health care bill was critical for economic recovery.
Obamacare, they claimed, was really a jobs bill.
In an April 2009 speech at Georgetown University in which he laid out the "five pillars" of economic recovery, Obama argued that an economic comeback would be impossible without passing his health care bill. "If we don't invest now in a more affordable health care system," he said, "this economy simply won't grow at the pace it needs to in two or five or 10 years down the road."
Six months later, in October 2009, with health care still consuming the Democratic Congress and his administration, Obama said, "We know that reforming our health insurance system will be a critical step in rebuilding our economy."
Even later, in January 2010, a headline on the website Politico told the story straight out: "Obama: Health bill will create jobs."
The president's Democratic allies were just as vocal. "The key issue in building a sustainable recovery is reform of health care," said Rep. Henry Waxman, then chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce committee, in March 2009.
"(Obamacare) will create 4 million jobs," then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said nearly a year later, in February 2010, "400,000 jobs almost immediately."
Even as the president and his team claimed that passing Obamacare was the most important thing they could do to bring about economic recovery, they also promised that at some point in the future they would "pivot" from health care to the economy. It was a little confusing -- why the need to pivot if Obamacare was really about jobs? -- but in the end, there would be no pivot until after the health care bill became law. It came first.
These days, the president doesn't talk about pivoting much -- his campaign even became angry recently when Romney brought it up. But Democrats are likely to hear much more about it as the campaign goes on. Whenever Team Obama touts its record over the past 27 months, the Romney campaign will remind them that's not the whole story.