Barack Obama chalked up another legislative victory on Thursday, adding financial regulatory reform to his healthcare overhaul, the stimulus package and fair pay act.
That already makes him a much more productive president, at least judged by the metric of bills passed, in 18 months than his predecessor was in eight years.
But Mr Obama, still facing high unemployment and an uncertain economy, will be lucky to get any kind of boost to his flagging approval ratings. Bill Galston, a domestic policy adviser in the Clinton administration, said: “The American people are so preoccupied right now with the circumstances of their daily lives – with unemployment and underemployment and difficulty paying their mortgages. So the response to this will be muted, not transformative.”
Indeed, while Mr Obama has made progress on many of his election pledges, his administration has had little tangible impact on the core issues that matter most to people, economists say. The unemployment rate remains painfully high at 9.5 per cent, meaning the administration’s insistence that its stimulus package saved or created about 3m jobs since January last year holds little sway.
The White House has also been at pains to link its Wall Street reform efforts to the hurt on Main Street but until unemployment falls to a more normal level, no amount of salesmanship is likely to sway the public.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll published this week found that 54 per cent of respondents disapproved of the president’s handling of the economy, up from 49 per cent the month before, while 43 per cent approved.
Heralding the passage of the bill in the Senate on Thursday, Mr Obama stressed the benefits to consumers that the legislation will bring.
“From now on, every American will be empowered with the clear and concise information you need to make financial decisions that are best for you,” the president said.
“All told, this reform puts in place the strongest consumer financial protections in history, and it creates a new consumer watchdog to enforce those protections. Because of this reform, the American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes,” he added.
But the problem for politicians is that such changes take time to kick in, and many of these benefits will not be felt before the November midterm elections, when Democrats will struggle to keep control of both the House and Senate.
“It’s frustrating to the White House but they of all people should understand that Americans don’t follow legislation as it passes through Congress. They care about whether they have a job,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist.
Republicans were quick to attack the bill. Before it was even passed, John Boehner, the House minority leader, said: “I think it ought to be repealed.”
Mr Boehner would become speaker of the House if Republicans win the midterm elections.
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