President Obama has begun taking a series of unilateral executive actions to try to help improve the economy as part of his new “we can’t wait” plan. From the New York Times:
According to an administration official, Mr. Obama will kick off his new offensive in Las Vegas, ground zero of the housing bust, by promoting new rules for federally guaranteed mortgages so that more homeowners, those with little or no equity in their homes, can refinance and avert foreclosure.
And Wednesday in Denver, the official said, Mr. Obama will announce policy changes to ease college graduates’ repayment of federal loans, seeking to alleviate the financial concerns of students considering college at a time when states are raising tuition.
Aides said Mr. Obama would announce at least one initiative each week through the rest of the year, including steps to help returning veterans and small businesses.
In very broad terms this general strategy seems like the best available political move for the Obama team given the current situation. How incumbent leaders/parties do in elections tends to depend heavily on the state of the economy before the election. The economy clearly needs a boost, but Obama is highly unlikely to get any additional stimulus measures from the Republican controlled House or the dysfunctional Senate. So the only real option he now has to help improve the economy is to implement creative measures that require only the powers he has as the executive.
Obama has also set himself up very well rhetorically by first putting forward a big jobs bill and having the Congressional Republican kill it, both in total and broken down in popular pieces, before introducing these unilateral actions. If the economy grows slowly, Obama can blame that slowness on the Republicans who rejected his jobs bill, while also claiming that whatever growth does take place is solely the result of the unilateral actions he took.
In theory this could be a very smart political move by the Obama administration. If they focus solely on getting the economy going, are very creative, are willing to push the boundaries of executive authority, and step on some big industry toes, they could potentially implement programs that would make a noticeable impact on employment.
Of course everything depends on the yet to be released details. These “we can’t wait” initiatives could be a string of bold, effective actions. Or they could mostly be a few PR stunts and ways to pay off big donor industries. While the general concept sounds smart, given the administration’s history I remain skeptical it will come anywhere close to living up to its theoretical potential.