- - Tuesday, December 31, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If you struggled through the sluggish, job-challenged, stomach-churning Obama economy in the past five years, 2014 may not be a great deal better.

The conventional wisdom among forecasters is that the painfully slow, five-year recovery is picking up steam and will turn in a stronger performance in the new year. However, don’t bet on it just yet. I’ll believe it when I see it.

As Barack Obama enters the sixth year of his problem-plagued presidency, his job-approval polls have fallen into the low 40s — briefly dropping to 39 percent last week in Gallup’s daily tracking surveys.

His list of looming troubles include a widely predicted shellacking for his party in the midterm elections; further disasters to come in his health care program that will place additional burdens on our economy; and the continuing paralysis of his domestic agenda in Congress.

Here are my forecasts for the coming year.

Don’t look for a sustainable surge in economic growth. The surprising 4.1 percent GDP rate in the third quarter was not all it was cracked up to be. A big boost in business inventories on the shelf accounted for a little less than half of it (1.7 percentage points).

“Much of the increase in inventories was in food and energy raw materials plus motor vehicles. This won’t occur at the same rate going forward,” Kiplinger says in its latest Economic Outlook.

Economists were expecting the fourth-quarter economic-growth rate to reach a mere 2.0 percent, but if job creation rises sharply in 2014, it could hit a modest 3 percent over the course of the next 12 months, some say.

However, that’s a big if, cautions economic analyst Robert J. Samuelson.

“Though jobs are up, they remain about 1.3 million below the record. Millions of would-be workers (almost 5.7 million, estimates the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank) have left the labor force,” he says. “Americans have been sobered. The resulting wariness may be self-fulfilling.”

Four million Americans have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer, the worst jobless rate in many decades.

Kiplinger’s economic forecasters are equally cautious on jobs, too:

“The bottom line … is that progress in rebuilding labor markets remains grindingly slow. There are still about 2 million fewer jobs now than when the recession began in December 2007 and there’s no hiring boom in sight.”

On the political front — despite the Washington news media’s efforts to persuade us that Republicans will soon cease to exist as a viable party — the GOP is closer than ever to taking full control of Congress in November.

Republicans will hold their 17-seat majority in the House. Who says so? The Washington Post’s ace political analyst Chris Cillizza:

Since 1912, “the party that holds the White House has lost an average of 29 seats in the House. Democrats probably won’t lose anywhere near that many, but it would take a historic election for them to make the sort of gains they need to win the House,” Mr. Cillizza says.

The Senate will be the game-changer. The GOP needs six more seats to take control of the Democrat-held chamber. Most campaign analysts see Republicans winning seats in South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana, and they’re favored to pick up two more in Alaska and Arkansas — for a five-seat gain.

That means it will come down to two remaining races to unseat the Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbents: Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay R. Hagan of North Carolina.

A victory in either would put the GOP back in control of Congress in the last two years of Mr. Obama’s presidency. And you know what that means.

Mr. Obama’s name won’t be on the ballot in November, but his presidency, his empty agenda and his many troubles will be the overriding issues of the 2014 midterm elections.

In a recent CNN-ORC voter survey, 55 percent said they were more likely to vote for a congressional candidate who was opposed to Mr. Obama.

First and foremost for voters will be the growing anger over Obamacare that will give Republicans a huge turnout advantage in the midterm elections.

“The problems increasingly are going to be up close and personal, as people see for themselves the impact it has on their lives and pocketbooks,” says health care expert Grace-Marie Turner, who heads the conservative Galen Institute think tank.

First on the Obamacare disasters to come will be “a new kind of sticker shock” driven up by high deductibles, the out-of-pocket costs people will have to pay before the insurance kicks in.

A recent Chicago Tribune analysis found that 21 of the 22 lowest-priced plans “offered for Cook County residents on the Illinois [online health care] exchange have annual deductibles of more than $4,000 for an individual and $8,000 for family coverages,” Ms. Turner says.

The Obama administration announced Sunday that 1.1 million people have signed up online for Obamacare, well short of its expectations.

However, if this group is largely drawn from older, sicker adults with higher health costs, and far fewer younger, healthier adults sign up, the so-called Affordable Care Act faces financial insolvency. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services continue to hold back the critical data regarding actual enrollment. Why?

“If too many sick people sign up, and not enough healthy people, the average … [costs] per enrollee will increase, leading to higher premiums that are increasingly unaffordable for average Americans,” writes Avik Roy, a health care analyst, at Forbes magazine’s website.

According to a study he conducted with colleagues at the Manhattan Institute think tank, “in many parts of the country, healthier Americans — especially younger ones — will see their premiums double or triple under the law.”

These and other problems are going to hit the voters in 2014, including millions of Americans who saw their health care policies canceled because of Obamacare mandates.

Anger over higher health care costs, canceled policies, weak job growth and a president who didn’t tell us the truth will be a politically combustible mixture on Election Day.

That will be the day when the voters will say we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.

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