Preview of tonight's prime-time presser

Tonight’s prime-time press conference intends to give Barack Obama a chance to communicate directly to the American people about his flailing health-care reform efforts, which have stalled in Congress along with his cap-and-trade bill.  As the New York Times reports, it also gives Obama a chance to claim credit for the economy.  If that sounds out of touch, the Times doesn’t make it sound any better coming from Rahm Emanuel, emphasis mine:

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama will address the nation in a prime-time news conference. Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said in an interview that the president intended to use it as a “six-month report card,” to talk about “how we rescued the economy from the worst recession” and the legislative agenda moving forward, including health care and energy legislation, which squeaked through the House and faces a tough road in the Senate.

That’s a poorly-written sentence.  The energy bill squeaked through the House, but ObamaCare hasn’t yet come out of committee.  The structure of that last sentence makes it sound as if both had passed in the lower chamber, when the limbo status of the health-care package is one of the reasons why Obama called this press conference.

Putting that aside, the idea that the economy has generated enough good news to claim any sort of credit seems ludicrous to everyone living outside the Beltway.  Unemployment continues to rise, and even Obama himself said it would go into double digits this year.  Last week, the number of seasonally-adjusted new claims for unemployment was 522,000, while the unadjusted number was 667,000, an increase of over 86,000 from the previous week. Retail sales were up last month, but most of the increase came only from a sharp rise in gas prices.

Does Barack Obama really plan to take credit for this? Does he think Americans feel “rescued” at this point?  That claim will mark him as out of touch with the American electorate, while at the same time forcing him to take ownership of the economic crisis and eliminating the “inherited” defense.  If Americans had already begun to distrust his acumen on economic policy, this will accelerate that trend mightily.

Update: Keith Hennessey has 20 Questions for tonight’s presser.  Here are a couple of my favorites:

  • You have said transparency is a top priority.  Yet you are calling on Congress to pass a trillion-plus dollar spending bill before CBO has had time to estimate its full effects.  In addition, your Administration is delaying release of the new economic projections and deficit estimates until after Congress votes on this massive new spending bill.  Will you commit now that you will not ask Members of Congress to vote on this massive new spending commitment until your Administration has met its legal obligation to provide an updated economic forecast and deficit projection, and until CBO has provided Congress with transparent and complete analysis of the bill?
  • In a February 2008 debate with then-Senator Clinton you opposed an individual mandate to buy health insurance.  In that debate you said, “In some cases, there are people who are paying fines and still can’t afford it, so now they’re worse off than they were.  They don’t have health insurance and they’re paying a fine.  In order for you to force people to get health insurance, you’ve got to have a very harsh penalty.”  Now you are supporting a bill that would force people to buy health insurance, and that CBO says would still result in eight million people not having health insurance and paying higher taxes.  How do you explain to those eight million uninsured people why you now support the mandate and “very harsh penalty” they would have to face, and which you opposed during the campaign?
  • The U.S. economy has lost 2.64 million jobs since you took office.  The unemployment rate is 9.5% and rising.  The good scenario is one in which the unemployment rate begins to decline early next year.  The Vice President said your Administration misread the economy.  You said you had incomplete information when proposing the stimulus.   Yet you have said you would not change anything about the stimulus if you could.  If the facts have changed, why doesn’t it make sense to change your policy?

How many of these will actually get asked by the White House press corps?  Print out Keith’s post and use it as a scorecard.