During an interview with New York Times White House correspondent Peter Baker (set to run in this Sunday’s Times Magazine), President Barack Obama reflects on his first two years in office and offers predictions for the next two, possibly sharing governing power with congressional Republicans who are poised for major gains. Obama predicts his political rivals will either fall short of their midterm electoral goals, or feel over-burdened by the new responsibilities that come from achieving them.
“It may be that regardless of what happens after this election, they [Republicans] feel more responsible, either because they didn’t do as well as they anticipated, and so the strategy of just saying ‘no’ to everything and sitting on the sidelines and throwing bombs didn’t work for them,” the president said. “Or they did reasonably well, in which case the American people are going to be looking to them to offer serious proposals and work with me in a serious way.”
The president has offered a number of his own “serious proposals,” not the least of which was the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. The underwhelming fallout from the $787 billion investment is one of many reasons the American public is challenging the Democratic leadership this year.
In reflecting on his time in office, the president laments that he looks too much like “the same old tax-and-spend Democrat,” and realized that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects.”
But the promise of these “shovel-ready” jobs was one of the Democrats’ main selling points in lobbying for the stimulus plan. In December 2008, the then-President-elect Obama pledged, “We’ve got shovel-ready projects all across the country that governors and mayors are pleading to fund. And the minute we can get those investments to the state level, jobs are going to be created.” Just one day later, the president-elect presented his ideas for a “bold agenda” of “shovel-ready projects,” promising the creation of 2.5 million new jobs when he took office.
In March 2009, President Obama boasted that just “14 days after I signed our Recovery Act into law we are seeing shovels hit the ground.”
At the same time, Vice President Joe Biden, the White House’s de facto stimulus shepherd, said the stimulus act “provides a necessary jolt to our economy to implement what we refer [to] as ‘shovel-ready’ projects, meaning projects that were on the books that were needed in the municipalities and the states that would improve the quality of life for our constituents, the competitiveness of our businesses, but were unable to be funded.”
Months later when the economy hadn’t begun to turn around, Obama continued to promise “shovel-ready” jobs. In August he bragged that the stimulus helped fund “almost 100 shovel-ready transportation projects… which are beginning to create jobs.”
A year later, Biden continues to parrot the White House’s claims that “shovel-ready” projects were putting Americans to work, despite stagnate unemployment levels. “Last summer… we had 1,750 highway projects that were underway — ‘shovel-ready,’” he said this summer.
These so-called “shovel-ready” projects were remnants of the Bush administration, according Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla. It wasn’t until congressional Democrats joined the Obama administration in passing the economic stimulus that “we could create those jobs and invest in shovel-ready projects that were ready to go, so that we could get people back to work who literally were left twisting in the wind after the Bush administration drove us into a ditch,” she said in July.
But after 14 months of unemployment rates topping 9.5 percent, the president claims he’s learned his lesson and that perhaps he should have “let the Republicans insist on the tax cuts” in the drafting of the stimulus bill.
As for the next two years in office, Obama says he’s scaling back his legislative agenda, planning to focus less on working to pass new legislation and more on enforcing laws Democrats passed during his first two years. “Even if I had the exact same Congress, even if we don’t lose a seat in the Senate and we don’t lose a seat in the House, I think the rhythms of the next two years would inevitably be different from the rhythms of the first two years,” he said.
“There’s going to be a lot of work in this administration just doing things right and making sure that new laws are stood up in the ways they’re intended.”