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In Detroit, Parallels With Obama’s Broader Economy

By John T. Bennett, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama jetted Wednesday to an American city whose economic revival mirrors both the U.S. economic comeback under his watch and the often negative perception of it.

Like the ongoing recovery in Detroit and across Michigan, the U.S. economy’s comeback often has been called sluggish and uneven. And like the revival of the Motor City and surrounding areas, economic recovery and healing in the nation has been called too slow.

Speaking Wednesday at the annual auto show in Detroit, Obama declared the American auto industry “all the way back.” He hailed the automobiles that U.S. companies are producing, and said the sector’s comeback has slashed the area’s unemployment rate.

“Folks aren’t writing off Detroit anymore,” Obama declared as a crowd of auto workers cheered. “What’s true of Detroit is true of the country.”

The economic trend lines for Detroit and all of Michigan are not that dissimilar to those of the national economy. After the Great Recession, Detroit was at “rock bottom,” Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., said last week after Obama’s address to Congress. “Someone had a headline, ‘Last one out of Detroit turn the lights out.’”

“And now there has been this resurgence, based on, our auto industry is back,” Lawrence said. “Our economy has come back to life.”

But it won’t be back on its feet when Obama leaves the Oval Office next year. “We still have some clouds and some things we need to work on,” Lawrence said.

Just like the broader U.S. economy, as Obama himself pointed out last week during his final State of the Union address.

“For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works also better for everybody,” he said. “We’ve made progress. But we need to make more.”

Gabriel Ehrlich, an economic researcher at the University of Michigan, said, “There’s a lot of truth to the characterization” that there are parallels between the Detroit and Michigan economies and that of the entire country since the 2008 collapse.

“Nationally, growth has been slower than in historical recoveries,” Ehrlich said Wednesday. “And the impact has been particularly severe here in Michigan.”

Still, the latest economic data on categories such as the unemployment rate and income levels show Detroit and the entire state “has been on a roll in recent years,” Ehrlich said. But inside economic categories such as per capita income and educational attainment, Michigan ranks among the worst. “So, while progress has been made in Michigan, there is still a ways to go,” Ehrlich said.

Just as Obama said last week about the broader national economy.

Economic projections show other parallels, as well. In Detroit and Michigan and across the rest of the country, the construction sector is expected to pick up steam. “We’re expecting the Michigan unemployment rate to run neck and neck with the national rate,” Ehrlich said. “It had been running higher.”

During its worst-performing period on jobs, the national unemployment rate hit 9 percent for the first time in April 2009 and stayed above that mark — approaching 10 percent during several months — until October 2011, when it fell to 8.8 percent, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Since then, the unemployment rate has steadily declined, falling below 7 percent in November 2013 (6.9 percent) and 6 percent in October 2014 (5.7 percent). A similar escalator-shaped drop has occurred since the worst month of Detroit metro area unemployment, from May 2009 (16. 9 percent) to last month’s preliminary level (6.2 percent), according to the bureau. Notably, the Motor City area’s unemployment trend line features more spikes of unemployment than does the national one.

“When you hear people saying, ‘America is in decline,’ they don’t know what they’re talking about,” Obama said. “They’re peddling fiction in a political year.” He tied the national recovery to Detroit’s economic awakening, saying those presidential candidates who are offering gloomy assessments of the U.S. economy are the same individuals who would have let Detroit “fail.”

He declined to name specific candidates, but Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump began slamming Obama’s economic record in late 2014. Trump first called it “a disaster” in October of that year, a line he has repeated.

Just last week, Trump kept up his attacks on the president. “You know he’s trying to justify the economy,” he said. “It’s the slowest recovery in our history, and it’s not a recovery.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who leads Trump in Iowa but is running second to the billionaire businessman nationally, has charged that during Obama’s tenure, “We have seen the lowest labor force participation since the late 1970s.”

“Families, small businesses, minorities and young people are being crushed by rising premiums and fewer good-paying jobs due to Obamacare, vast costs from new agency regulations, and a byzantine tax code,” Cruz said late last year.

The state of the national economy ranks near the top of most Americans’ priority lists in prominent polls. One reason is wage stagnation, according to Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., a member of the Joint Economic Committee.

“Part of the problem is the perception over a long period of time is wages haven’t grown over 40 years,” Casey said in a brief interview. “I think that is a reality that, no matter what economic news shows progress, it isn’t always persuasive.”

Still, Obama and national Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, his former secretary of state, seem eager to tout the Obama economic record as the campaign cycle begins heating up.

Obama on Wednesday declared the U.S. economy the “strongest, most durable economy in the world,” adding, “We’ve added more jobs than almost all the advanced countries combined.” He repeated a State of the Union theme, saying more work needs to be done to further revive the national and Detroit area economies.

And that’s just what Ehrlich and his University of Michigan colleagues anticipate.

“This has been a slow-and-steady recovery, here and nationally,” he said. “And we expect that to continue.”

(Melinda Henneberger contributed to this report.)

©2016 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama checks out an all-electric Chevrolet Bolt at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan January 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 

Was There Ever An Obama-Ryan Honeymoon?

By John T. Bennett, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama repeatedly had to raise his voice to be heard over cheering Democratic lawmakers during his State of the Union address on Jan. 12. But Speaker Paul D. Ryan sat motionless, his face frozen in a polite — but unimpressed — expression.

Obama used part of his likely final address to a joint session of Congress to extol policy whims long pushed by Democrats like pre-kindergarten “for all” children and a government-led effort to “to make college affordable for every American.” He also called it a “basic fact” that the U.S. “has the strongest, most durable economy in the world,” saying the country is “in the middle of the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history.”

During that section of the State of the Union address and minutes later when Obama declared “anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction,” however, Ryan sat stone-faced. And when Ryan submitted a question for the president during a Twitter question-and-answer session last week, it went unaddressed.

Does this recent chilliness, along with critical rhetoric from each side about the other, suggest the honeymoon between the second-term president and reluctant speaker is over? Or has the relationship merely quickly settled into a normal president-speaker relationship when they hail from opposite parties: professional but sometimes-contentious?

Aides say the two leaders have chatted only a handful of times since the Wisconsin Republican ascended to the speakership. They describe a cordial — enough — relationship, and they always are quick to point out their vast ideological differences.

And that often-mentioned meeting at the White House? Still not on the calendar.

The speaker’s office offered a description of the two men’s relationship that is almost clinical. In essence, the message from inside Ryan World, to use a modern phrase, is this: The relationship is what it is.

A Ryan aide described the leaders’ relationship as “cordial and professional so far,” noting Obama and Ryan “have spoken on several occasions over the last couple months.

“Like any speaker and president of opposite parties, there is plenty that they disagree on. But they have both expressed a willingness to work together where there is common ground,” the aide said. “For example, they have both acknowledged there is room for compromise in the areas of trade and criminal justice reform.”

Ryan provided a window into his views of Obama during an interview Sunday on Fox.

“I think he’s very political. I think he erects what I call intellectual straw men arguments,” Ryan said. “He affixes views to people that they do not have in order to win the debate in an intellectually lazy way.

“I think he’s been the most polarizing president we’ve had in my lifetime, and I think he tries to shift blame for his own mistakes onto other people,” the speaker added. Ryan called Obama’s address a “fairly partisan and political speech,” and panned him because “I think he sees the world as what he wishes it would be, not what it is.”

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough downplayed the importance of the two getting on like old chums during a meeting with reporters last week.

But other than noting Obama referred to the still-new speaker several times during his final State of the Union address, McDonough opted against describing their relationship, saying the White House will focus on scoring more legislative victories and “making sure these institutions work.”

There is a sense among senior aides to both men, and among some longtime Washington hands, that their relationship does not have to be rosy for them to accomplish the few 2016 agenda items they share.

“The word honeymoon is overused in American politics,” said William Galston, a former aide to President Bill Clinton now with the Brookings Institution. “There are significant differences on policies between the two parties, and the leaders of both are going to reflect that.

“Both men have the image of cool intellectuals. They’re both guided by facts not emotions,” Galston said. “There is no reason they cannot have civil conversations. In principle, though, they should be able to do some things together.”

To be sure, however, some of the rhetoric used by each side about the other in recent weeks has been less than civil.

For instance, Ryan has taken to cable news multiple times to slam the president.

In mid-November, the speaker went on Fox News Channel and called an Obama veto threat of a House bill to step up oversight of a federal refugee program “remarkably unpresidential.”

Ryan also has told Fox that Obama “clearly does not respect the Second Amendment,” accusing him of trying to “intimidate” law-abiding gun enthusiasts. And the White House has dinged Ryan for what it calls an “alarming” flip-flop on firearms background checks.

And one of Ryan’s first major legislative acts as wielder of the gavel was to send Obama a bill that would have repealed his signature health care law.

But Galston says the party’s 2012 vice presidential candidate “doesn’t have much of a choice” but to throw rhetorical elbows toward Obama.

“He is the leader of a very frustrated Republican caucus,” Galston said. “So he had no choice but to be instrumental in getting a health law repeal to the president’s desk. Ryan has to give the most uncompromising members of his caucus something to hang onto going into the elections.”

While it appears to have cooled, the relationship got off to a warm start.

White House officials had polite things to say about the former Budget Committee chairman and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee during his first days in his new job.

On the first day of Ryan’s speakership, Oct. 29, White House press secretary Josh Earnest noted Obama “has spoken publicly in the past about the respect that he has for Congressman Ryan, despite their … significant policy differences.” He described the president as “hopeful” that he and the new speaker would “make progress on behalf of the American people.”

He added that, for legislation to be passed by a GOP Congress and signed by a Democratic president, it would have to be bipartisan. “The president is hopeful that Speaker Ryan will lead the House of Representatives in that spirit and with that fact in mind,” Earnest said, offering the new speaker some unsolicited advice.

Such upbeat assessments of the relationship have been sprinkled into the White House’s public statements since.

For instance, on Dec. 15, Earnest said officials expect Ryan to help the White House obtain congressional approval for a sweeping trade pact with Asian countries. And on Nov. 3, Obama’s top spokesman declared Ryan’s vote for a year-end spending and tax package an “encouraging sign.”

“If Speaker Ryan does determine that he wants to try to get some things done, and he is willing to try to compromise with Democrats to advance the governing agenda that he’s laid out, he will find a very willing partner in the Oval Office,” Earnest said.

But signs the honeymoon would be short lived first appeared just days after Ryan replaced the beleaguered John A. Boehner as speaker.

“A guy who was part of a Republican leadership team that spent more than a year blocking legislation that would make a historic investment in border security is now suggesting he wants to work with the president on border security,” Earnest said on Nov. 3. “It’s a little hard to take seriously. I mean, I would think in terms of our sort of analysis of Speaker Ryan’s trajectory, I think this is sort of … disappointing evidence that we’ve received so far.”

That elbow was followed immediately by another, with Earnest alleging a “political calculation” and calling that “disappointing.”

©2016 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama (L) is greeted by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R) as he arrives to deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington, January 12, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst   

Obama Would Sign Short-Term Spending Bill To Avoid Shutdown

By John T. Bennett, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The White House is signaling it would not block a short-term spending bill to avert a government shutdown should lawmakers need to keep working on a massive spending measure after the Dec. 11 deadline.

That date is when an existing government-wide continuing resolution will expire. By 11:59 p.m. Eastern that day, Congress must pass an omnibus spending measure crafted to higher spending limits in a budget deal already signed into law, or send President Barack Obama another short-term measure. The alternative is a government shutdown just weeks before Christmas.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, briefing reporters in Paris Monday, put the onus on Republican leaders to avoid a shutdown.

He said White House officials “take some solace in” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s past statements about opposing more government shutdowns. Earnest also repeated a line he has used in recent months, saying he doubts Speaker Paul D. Ryan wants to preside over a shutdown so early in his new job.

Earnest said Obama would not sign a long-term continuing resolution. The White House has for most of the year pushed for increased domestic spending, an objective it secured in the recent bipartisan budget deal.

However, Earnest said the president would put his signature on a short-term CR should lawmakers need another few days to complete a year-end budget bill.

Earlier Monday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters lawmakers might need to pass a one-week CR that would give them until Dec. 18 to complete work on the omnibus measure, which would include higher defense and domestic spending levels.

©2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington September 3, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Hollande Meeting With Obama: 4 Things To Watch

By John T. Bennett, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — French President Francois Hollande will find a reluctant partner in President Barack Obama when the two leaders meet Tuesday at the White House.

Lawmakers and experts expect Hollande will ask Obama to take new action against the Islamic State extremist group after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris. But Obama has pledged to provide “whatever resources” France needs and defensively signaled he is not inclined to alter his strategy against the group.

Hollande is due to huddle with Obama on Tuesday to discuss how to respond to the Paris attacks. The French leader will not stay overnight, instead flying to Moscow for a similar meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

During remarks on Nov. 16 in Turkey, Obama made clear he remains opposed to a large-scale military operation featuring tens of thousands — or more — U.S. ground forces in Iraq or Syria. Instead, he and other senior U.S. officials have repeatedly predicted an “intensification” of airstrikes and other tactics already being employed.

That same day, Hollande delivered a much more hawkish address to a joint session of France’s parliament.

“That difference is striking,” said Jeffrey Lightfoot, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “Based on the conversation I’ve had with them, the French are coming here with tempered expectations. They know Obama isn’t interested in changing the strategy very much. Hollande isn’t coming to rock the boat.”

For the first time in recent history, the French president is coming to Washington in a much more militaristic mood than his American counterpart. Here’s what Hollande likely will seek from Obama:

1. The enemy of my enemy. Since the Islamic State claimed it took down a Russian airliner in Egypt earlier this month, Russia has signaled a greater willingness to hit Islamic State targets in Syria. Previously, U.S. officials complained Russian airstrikes were mostly aimed at helping Syrian President Bashar Assad remain in power.

“I think he’s going to ask, first off, for the United States to work more with Russia,” Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., who serves on a House Armed Services subcommittee that monitors intelligence issues, told CQ Roll Call. The crux of Hollande’s expected request will be for both Obama and Putin — and their militaries — “to be more willing to cooperate.”

“I’m sure Obama and Hollande will want to talk about how operations in Syria will change the Vienna talks,” Lightfoot said, referring to ongoing multinational talks held in the Austrian city about Syria’s future.

Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush, agreed that Russian involvement will give both leaders ample pause — and conversation fodder. “This is just as divisive an issue in France as it is in the United States,” he said. “We’re really not going for the same objectives. The Russians want to maintain their bases in Syria and keep their friend, Assad, in power.

2. Got intel, targets? The United States has been bombing Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq since the summer of 2014. That means U.S. military and intelligence entities have been closely monitoring the group’s command and training centers, ammunition storehouses, oil transportation capabilities and other potential targets.

Hollande will be eager to degrade everything from the group’s leaders and rank-and-file fighters to its equipment to how it generates funding for its operations. U.S. officials provided some targets hit by French war planes during airstrikes that Hollande ordered two days after the Paris attacks. It is likely he will ask Obama to increase that kind of operational collaboration.

“I would expect greater intelligence sharing to be on the list,” House Intelligence ranking member Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., said recently. “Sharing information, and at a greater rate, has proven successful in the past.

Lightfoot said he expects what the two leaders “will really focus on” is stepping up intelligence sharing and targeting. “I think the conversation will center around the question of, ‘How do we make the most of all the capabilities we have there?”

3. Arms for allies. Experts said it is unlikely Hollande would press Obama on sending U.S. and French ground troops into Syria and Iraq. That’s because Obama spent much of last week making clear he had no appetite for another large-scale U.S. military operation in the Middle East.

“Will Hollande urge Obama to use more troops? Maybe not,” Abrams said. “Or maybe he’ll tell Obama, ‘If we’re really serious, we need to put more boots on the ground.”

What’s more likely is the French leader will ask the U.S. to provide more weapons to local forces that have been fighting Islamic State in both countries. “Hollande very well could ask that the U.S. give more military support to the Kurds,” Abrams said. “We could give more weapons to the Iraqi Sunnis. We could give more to Syrian rebel forces.”

4. Obama’s demands. Experts agree that if Hollande is in a hawkish mood, he will find a tough audience in Obama. But no matter the French president’s mindset on Tuesday, the U.S. commander in chief likely will come armed with some demands of his own.

One will be to keep a close on eye on Putin, should Hollande determine he has to at least give greater counter-Islamic State cooperation a shot. Another could be a plea to take steps to limit civilian casualties in Syria, which the Obama administration in other theaters has warned can become recruiting tools for groups such as Islamic State.

Abrams predicts that if Obama presses Hollande to avoid striking some targets, “that won’t be received very well by the French.” Should that occur, he said the U.S. president should be prepared to “be reminded that the French have closely monitored civilian casualties caused by our drone strikes.”

Still, Lightfoot said “it seems the United States and France are moving the scale toward being more aggressive one what risk that are willing to take.” But the issue could become a sticking point for the duo, he warned, because “when the French take the gloves off, they really take them off.”

Photo: French President Francois Hollande addressing the world after the Paris attacks. REUTERS/Reuters TV/Pool