Second, it became clear within weeks of passing the stimulus that the administration’s projections had been much too optimistic: The economy was in much worse shape than Obama’s economists realized when they first proposed $800 billion worth of spending and tax cuts (and even that had been vastly insufficient relative to what the economists deemed truly necessary). No surprise, then, that top administration officials—like Christy Romer, Alan Krueger, and Jared Bernstein—were arguing internally for more stimulus as early as the spring and summer of 2009. By the fall, even Larry Summers had become quite outspoken about this, as I describe in my book.
And all of this hand-wringing made an impression on the president. In June, several of the aforementioned economists attended an Oval Office briefing with Obama making the case that the recovery was shaping up to be distressingly “jobless.” Obama was clearly disturbed by what they told him, judging from his responses.
Third, Democratic Senators were also increasingly concerned about the economy in the summer of 2009. In my book, I describe a 45-minute Oval Office meeting between Obama and a Democratic Senator that August, in which the senator pleaded with Obama to ditch health care reform and focus on the economy. (Obama responded that he had a once-in-a-lifetime shot at bringing transformational change and he intended to take it.) The chief of staff to another senator told me he was uncomfortable with the White House’s singular focus on health care in the summer of 2009 given the country’s anxieties about the economy. My reporting suggests these views were relatively common in the Senate.