Obama never quite scratches the economy's itch [Commentary]

Those of us of a certain age recall the scene all too well: Lucy pulling the football away just as Charlie Brown was about to kick it, visions of football glory dancing in his head.

Charlie Brown always fell for the prank, believing that Lucy would finally come through next time around.

Today's apologists for President Barack Obama believe (much like Charlie Brown) that the next policy or program will surely jump start a tepid, jobless recovery. And, as true believers, they are always surprised when it doesn't, when Lucy pulls the football.

But the deficit spending, big ticket item gravy train is over. Republican control of the House means no new spending binge (a la stimulus and Obamacare) for the remainder of the president's term.

All of which leaves us in "Year Six" of a sustained experiment in European-style social welfare-ism — with a fractured Congress and a frustrated president intent on taking matters into his own hands, unilaterally empowering government "with his phone and his pen."

Mr. Obama does this because it is what he knows: See a problem, create a government program; when the problem gets worse, throw more money at the problem and indict your political opposition as lacking compassion.

The problem, of course, is that the offered prescription never quite scratches the economy's itch. In other words, the menu of policy options presented is more about placating political constituencies and feeding government rather than growing the private economy.

A review of recent events reflects the inconvenient truth:

•A $1.2 trillion stimulus guaranteed to energize a recession riddled economy with "shovel ready jobs" proved to be more sizzle than steak. Today, few Democrats talk about this failed experiment in Keynesian economics other than to complain that it was too small of a spending package to do the trick. Vice President Joe Biden is famously associated with this school of thought, he of the "it's never enough" wing of the progressive movement.

Two major tax increases (the end of the Bush tax cuts and the new and expanded taxes of Obamacare) targeted to upper income earners made the progressive federal tax code more progressive — but without altering the divide between rich and poor. Income inequality has actually gotten worse during the Obama era. Seems that punishing wealth does not motivate the wealthy to start new businesses and provide opportunities for the not-so-wealthy — quite a revelation to the class warrior crowd.

Today's mantra is all about increasing the minimum wage, even mandating a so-called "living wage," which appears to be whatever organized labor wants it to be. Raising the minimum wage will surely help some marginal workers put more money in their pockets while others (the most marginal, low skilled workers) will either lose their jobs or find their hours cut. Seems that even well-meaning Capitol Hill types haven't found a way to make unskilled workers more valuable through government dictate. But the real bottom line is that a minimum wage boost does nothing to stimulate employers into creating more jobs.

Obamacare is an employment black hole, as evidenced by the Congressional Budget Office's latest estimate that Americans will work the equivalent of 2.5 million fewer full-time jobs by 2024. Accordingly, the president has delayed the employer mandate another year in order to forestall additional political fallout prior to the mid-term elections. This latest extension includes rules that empower the IRS to investigate why an employer reduced its workforce under the exempt cap of 100 employees. Hopefully, this Orwellian provision will not survive court challenge. One can further hope the administration's latest mantra (allegedly miserable workers will be liberated from "job lock") will be quickly dismissed by a distrustful public.

Some perspective is in order.

Our housing bubble recession was wide and deep. Trillions of dollars of wealth was lost. Credit became scarce. Unemployment skyrocketed. Bad actors played a part, especially those within government who pretended that just about everybody should own a home, regardless of income.

The journey back from the precipice has been slow and bumpy, made more so by economic policies that fail to promote economic growth.

This perilous path is led by no-growthers, the heavy (protectionist) hand of organized labor and the limited horizon crowd who welcome the gradual decline of a "greedy" super-power. (Recall Senator Obama bemoaning America's disproportionate share of energy consumption and wealth.)

The bottom line: this president does not see growth and wealth creation (let alone entrepreneurship) as a primary component of American culture. Diminished economic expectations inevitably follow. Elections do indeed have consequences.

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and the author of "Turn this Car Around" and "America: Hope for Change" — books about national politics. His email is ehrlichcolumn@gmail.com.

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