While President Obama discusses the global economy in Italy with other world leaders, the volume is getting dialed up on job losses at home.
The unemployment rate is at 9.5 percent -- the highest in 26 years -- and headed into double digits. Employers laid off another 467,000 workers last month, bringing to 6.5 million the net job losses since the recession began in December 2007. And criticism is growing of the $787 billion economic stimulus plan that Obama championed -- and why it isn't creating jobs quicker.
The epicenter of the debate this week is Ohio, the traditional presidential bellwether state where Obama spent quite a bit of time campaigning and where a new poll this week had worrisome numbers for Obama.
Respondents in the Quinnipiac University survey were evenly divided over Obama's handling of the economy -- 48 percent approved, 46 percent disapproved -- and his approval rating had dropped to 49 percent from 62 percent in May while his disapproval number rose to 44 percent from 31 percent.
Quinnipiac called Obama's numbers "lackluster," and said they were the lowest in any national or state poll it had conducted since his inauguration.
Representative John Boehner of Ohio, the top Republican in the House, caused a ruckus over the weekend by claiming that none of the contracts had been let for infrastructure projects funded by the stimulus.
The Democratic National Committee released a web video and is holding a news conference today in Ohio to rebut Boehner, who it says is being hypocritical since the House GOP stimulus plan had no infrastructure projects.
“Given that he championed and continues to advocate the very same economic policies that got us into this mess to begin with, perhaps John Boehner just doesn't know what creating new jobs looks like. Or perhaps he was willfully misleading the public about the effect of the President's economic recovery package to score political points,” DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan said in a statement. “Either way, considering that the Republican 'alternative' included ZERO funding for construction projects, it's the height of hypocrisy for Boehner to criticize the status of these projects at all.”
Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman, responded: "Ohio was very nearly the last state to get the first 50 percent of its stimulus construction money obligated for construction projects, which is ridiculous. As of late May, approximately, no
contracts had been signed.
"Since that time, some contracts have been belatedly set in motion, but the entire process has been absurdly slow-moving -- just as Republicans warned it would be last winter when we called for an economic recovery bill based on fast-acting tax relief for small businesses and working families rather than spending on slow-moving government programs. It's embarrassing that the DNC can't defend its own indefensible trillion-dollar stimulus that isn't working
and resorts to desperate tactics like this."
The Obama administration concedes that the continuing job losses are unacceptable, but says that the stimulus package was always going to take some time to have measurable impact.
Vice President Joe Biden said over the weekend that the White House might have "misread" the depth of the recession; he plans to visit the state on Thursday to trumpet the stimulus.
But Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said on Fox Business Network that all the stimulus needs to be spent before serious consideration of a second stimulus package.
Solis said she can't predict when the unemployment rate will begin declining.
"We're not looking at just a quick fix here, we're looking at something that is going to take us out of this bad economy for the next decade," she said. "And we have to make these investments that were neglected in the last eight years."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.