President Obama told the American people Friday that he believes “the private sector is doing fine.” The astounding statement reverberated from the White House Briefing Room, and the negative reaction was intense. Within a few hours, Mr. Obama attempted to cover for his earlier remarks by telling reporters in the Oval Office, “It is absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine. That’s the reason I had a press conference.” Too late.
Mr. Obama made his initial comment as he called on Congress to enact a third stimulus of $35 billion. He wants to grow the size of state and local government, as if this will get people back to work, saying “Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government - oftentimes, cuts initiated by governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government.”
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney wasted no time pouncing on the president’s remarks. “I think he’s defining what it means to be detached and out of touch with the American people,” he told supporters in Iowa. “He wants another stimulus. He wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”
The main reason states are in tight budget crunches is the burdensome cost of outsized benefits for the unionized employees of state and local governments. Some Republican governors like Scott Walker of Minnesota, Chris Christie of New Jersey and Mitch Daniels of Indiana have fought to break Big Labor’s stranglehold in order to balance their budgets.
Mr. Walker, who won his recall election last week, responded to Mr. Obama’s remarks on CBS News Sunday. “The president and his allies believe success in government is defined by how many people are dependent on government programs,” he explained. “I think I, Gov. Romney and others believe that success is just the opposite.”
Mr. Obama is obviously pandering for union money and votes. His rare press conference was aimed at sending a message to his powerful union allies that, as long as he’s in office, the money will flow to keep them in Cadillac health care plans and cushy retirement packages - all at taxpayer expense. It may not prove to be a shrewd political move.
A Gallup News poll released on Monday shows that union employees will support Mr. Obama over Mitt Romney by 57 to 35 percent. He may be alienating the far larger pool of non-unionized voters who tilt to the Republican presidential candidate 48 to 44 percent.
It’s only a matter of time before the rest of America becomes tired of paying the bills for all those pampered bureaucrats on the public dole. With economic growth in neutral, government-sector stimulus has failed. It will be up to voters to decide whether four more years of deficit spending and high unemployment are fine with them.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.