In 2010 Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama kicked off an official “Recovery Summer” tour – a six-week, multi-state push aimed at convincing the public that the stimulus was working and that a booming recovery was right around the corner. It wasn’t.
Despite the optimistic pronouncements the economy remained firmly in the tank with poor job gains, stagnant wages and slow GDP growth. That should have been a reality check for at-risk Democrats in conservative-leaning districts. After all, you’d think they’d want to avoid a repeat of the president’s embarrassing announcement that “shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we thought.” Nevertheless, Senate Democrats have continued to say that the economy is getting ready to take a turn for the better.
“I think the overall economy is resilient,” Sen. Mark Pryor, one of the most vulnerable Democrats, said. “Sometimes the gridlock and bickering up here in Washington hurts the economy, but I think the economy will continue to get a little stronger over the course of the year. I assume that tends to help incumbents.”
His fellow party members seemed to agree. Alaskan Sen. Mark Begich said recent job reports “demonstrates progress as our economy continues to recover.” In Michigan, Democrat candidate Gary Peters also stressed that the “economy continues to recover.” And Sen. Michael Bennett, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said there is “no question” that the improving economy will help them maintain a majority.
“That’s really what people at home are focused on and that’s what they’ll make their judgments based on at the end of the day, whether they’re seeing economic growth,” he told The Hill.
That’s absolutely true. Polls show that the economy is one of the most important factors in Americans’ decision over who to vote for in November. But that shouldn’t come as good news for Democrats because contrary to their claims the economy simply isn’t growing. In fact, recent evidence suggests that the economy is much weaker than anyone previously though. The New York Times’ Neil Irwin reports-:
The beginning of the year was not just bad for the United States economy; it was — on paper at least — the worst quarter since the last recession ended five years ago.
The Commerce Department revised its estimates of first-quarter gross domestic product to show that overall economic activity contracted at a 2.9 percent annual rate, much bleaker than the previous estimate of a 1 percent decline. A combination of shrinking business inventories, terrible winter weather in much of the country and a surprise contraction in health care spending drove the first-quarter fall, which was the worst since the first quarter of 2009, when the economy shrank at a 5.4 percent rate.
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Still, though 2014 is only around halfway over, the brutal math of G.D.P. means that the nation now looks consigned to another year of sluggish growth at best — and that’s true even if there is a pickup over the remainder of the year. For example, if the economy were to grow at a 4 percent pace each of the three final quarters of 2014 — a level only attained twice in the last five years, and never in consecutive quarters — the overall growth rate for 2014 would still work out to only a tepid 2.2 percent.
Democrats mostly chalked up the bad quarter to an unusually cold winter that kept shoppers at home, construction at bay and costs up for many service providers. And while that certainly played a part, the magnitude of the revision suggested that the underlying economic fundamentals are not as healthy as we thought.
“It just does not sound like the economy has reached escape velocity no matter how you try to spin it,” economist Chris Rupkey told the Wall Street Journal.
But that won’t stop Democrats in close races from trying. With President Obama’s approval rating in the tank and Obamacare’s popularity still flagging, Democrats desperately need the economy to perform like they’ve promised it would.