Anxious and angry, Americans are not in a congratulatory mood. That's bad news for President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies.
After winning a landmark health care overhaul earlier this year, Obama now stands on the brink of seeing Congress approve the most far-reaching overhaul of Wall Street regulations since the 1930s. Democrats aim to put it on his desk by July 4.
Yet with the economy still wobbly and the stock market retreating, Americans remain nervous about the possibility of a double-dip recession. They have seen few concrete benefits yet from the slow-to-unfold health care law. Likewise, it may be some time before Obama can point to results from the advancing legislation to rewrite the rules that govern Wall Street.
Senate passage last week of the financial overhaul bill was "another big win for him. But the problem is that, in terms of his standing in the eyes of the public, both these enormously far-reaching pieces of legislation are going to take quite a while to play out and to begin to affect the lives of Americans," said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
In the meantime, there's plenty for people to worry about.
Despite signs of a fledgling corporate recovery, unemployment seems stuck at just under 10 percent. Home foreclosures continue to rise. U.S. stocks have fallen some 10 percent in just the last month, signaling a correction to the bull market that began in March 2009. Despite a rebound on Friday, stocks generally continued their downward course on Monday, with the Dow Jones industrials lower by about 30 points in midday trading.
Riots in Athens and strikes in Spain are rattling world markets. And millions of gallons of crude oil have gushed into the Gulf of Mexico over the past month from a blown out well, threatening the environment and jobs in the region.
The result: Americans are in a sour mood, and the polls reflect that.
Just 35 percent surveyed this month say the country is heading in the right direction, the lowest measured by the AP-GfK survey since a week before Obama took office in January 2009. His approval rating remains at 49 percent, as low as it has been since he became president.
Both the health care overhaul and the financial regulation measures are complicated pieces of legislation. Republicans have gone out of their way to portray both as examples of Democratic efforts to expand the scope of government.
Two months after Obama's health care overhaul narrowly passed Congress, polls suggest many Americans still either don't like the looming health care changes or are skeptical of them — and Republicans are seizing on that discontent at every opportunity.
Democrats believe the financial overhaul bill will be a bigger winner for them in November elections, given widespread public anger at Wall Street bailouts and bonuses. Obama won't be on the ballot until 2012 and by then, the White House hopes, the economy will be stronger, the jobless rate will be lower and Americans will be enjoying benefits of the health care changes.
The health care bill and now the financial regulation legislation follow Obama's signature legislative accomplishment of 2009, a $787 billion stimulus package passed in February 2009 that contained dozens of federal initiatives aimed at preventing the worst recession in 70 years from becoming another Great Depression.
The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the 2009 stimulus package has an actual long-term cost of $862 billion.
"By any objective terms, the Obama presidency has had an incredibly productive start. He reached high. The major things he's taken on during very difficult times will pay dividends in legislative terms. But will he get credit in the short term? Probably not," said Thomas Mann, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution.
"The public has come to believe the stimulus bill and financial bailout were of no use in helping the economy, contrary to evidence suggesting otherwise. Health reform remains a very controversial measure. The bottom line is that the public is scared, they're angry, they're in a foul mood and not inclined to see great victories or achievements," Mann said.
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