Obama's Very Good Week
SCOTT SIMON, Host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
President Obama and his family are spending this weekend in Maine, taking a break after a busy week on several fronts. Mr. Obama scored a couple of significant victories during the week. But it's not clear whether that will help his public approval rating.
NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now.
Scott, thanks for being with us.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Good to be with you.
SIMON: And on Thursday, the Senate approved that wide-ranging overhaul of the nation's financial rules. And this has been one of President Obama's top priorities.
HORSLEY: It really has. For more than a year the administration's been pushing Congress to rewrite the financial rule book, hoping to avoid another financial meltdown. They'd hope to have this done before the July 4th recess and it took a little longer after Robert Byrd's death. But they did manage to cobble together the 60 votes to overcome a threatened filibuster, and when the final tally was added up on Thursday, the president was able to check off a major item off his to-do list.
BARACK OBAMA: I said when took office we can't simply rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand, on maxed-out credit cards, houses used like ATM machines, or over-leveraged firms on Wall Street.
We need to rebuild on a firmer, stronger foundation for economic growth.
HORSLEY: And the president expects to sign that bill this coming week. Politically, this is important for the Democrats, because unlike some of the president's other initiatives, there's a lot of public support for cracking down on Wall Street.
SIMON: Another piece of the new foundation the president often talks about from his point of view is clean energy. I know you were in Michigan this, where the president broke ground on a new factory for making electric batteries.
HORSLEY: Right. This is one of nine battery plants funded by the government stimulus program - two in Holland, Michigan, which is really going to be at the center of what the White House hopes will be a new industry, and it's an area that can certainly use it.
Michigan's unemployment rate is the second highest in the country. But Western Michigan, Holland, is also a very Republican area, and in talking with some of the residents there, I've heard a lot of ambivalence over the government's activist role in sponsoring these battery plants.
SIMON: And the skepticism about the president's economic program, if you take a look at the polls, it's not just limited to his obvious political opponents, is it?
HORSLEY: Yeah, for some time now we have seen doubts about the stimulus program - widespread doubts. This week the White House released a report saying that the stimulus had saved or created as many as three and a half million jobs so far. But what the public is really focused on is that still painfully high unemployment, and slower private sector growth than any of us would like.
Also this week, the Washington Post and ABC released a poll saying 54 percent of Americans now disapprove of the president's handling of the economy, while just 43 percent approve.
SIMON: Now, those aren't the kind of numbers that Democrats want to read just a few months away from elections in November, is it?
HORSLEY: No. It's terrible for the Democrats. And the White House's argument so far has been to say, okay, we know progress is slow but we're moving in the right direction and urging people, hey, consider the Republican alternative.
OBAMA: There are some folks who want to go back - who think that we should return to the policies that helped to lead to this recession. Some of them made the political calculation that it's better to obstruct than to lend a hand. They said no to tax cuts, they said no to small business loans, they said no to clean energy projects. Now, it doesn't stop them from being at ribbon- cuttings.
HORSLEY: That seemed to be a dig at GOP Congressman Pet Hoekstra of Michigan, who was sitting in the front row at Thursday's groundbreaking, even though he had voted against the stimulus program.
The president also went after Republicans this morning in his weekly radio address. But he also took some time to praise the handful of Senate Republicans who voted in favor of that financial overhaul bill.
SIMON: Just before the president and his family decamped for Maine, he commented on what he called some good news from the Gulf of Mexico.
HORSLEY: Yeah, for almost three months now those grim pictures of oil spewing into the Gulf have been sort of a sad metaphor for the government's apparent inability to solve big problems, at least quickly. And the president cautioned that this new tighter cap that BP has put on the well is not a final solution but it is, he said, good news. And there's no doubt the White House hopes this will be the beginning of some different images, not only from the underwater webcam, but more generally. There's certainly still a lot of work to be done but at least now it seems the problem is not getting worse.
SIMON: NPR's Scott Horsley, thanks so much.
HORSLEY: Good to be with you.