One in five Americans are on food stamps. The number of Americans in the labor force fell to its lowest level since 1979 in March, when another 500,000 Americans simply gave up hope of finding a job. Median household income has declined 5.6 percent since 2009, when the so-called economic recovery began. Given these grim realities, Americans might expect President Obama to make the economy his greatest priority. Americans would be wrong. According to a new report, “Presidential Calendar: A Time-Based Analysis,” compiled by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Institute (GAI), Obama has spent only 3.6 percent of his total work time on economic issues, during his entire tenure in office.
Yet even that dismal number may be a generous estimate. As the “Methodology” section of the report reveals, “generally wide parameters were used to include anything that may have constituted an ‘economic meeting.’” This is to account for the fact that not every presidential conversation about the economy is officially recorded on the presidential calendar. Moreover, if Obama’s official schedule did not indicate an end time for a particular session, the GAI allotted a minimum of two hours per meeting. And, as the Appendix describing the nature of these meetings indicates, including “Obama delivers remarks on middle class tax relief at a campaign event,” and “Obama delivers a statement about the action we need to take to keep our economy growing and reduce our deficit,” political campaigning is included in the total.
In one such appearance before UPS workers in 2011, Obama’s speech reflected the disconnect between his words and his deeds. “I know there’s a lot going on in the world, and the news is filled with images of the Middle East and Japan,” he said. “But you should know that keeping the economy growing and making sure jobs are available is the first thing I think about when I wake up every morning. It’s the last thing I think about when I go to bed each night.”
Perhaps that is what the president thinks about. What he actually does however, is another story. The report reveals that the president has spent 976 hours on vacation and playing golf, versus just 474.4 hours on economic meetings of any kind. That is a two-to-one ratio of fun compared to work, yet once again this may be a generous assumption. The report assumes the president works a six day, 10 hours per day work week, that he spends only six hours of each vacation day relaxing, and that he spends only fours hours per round playing golf–despite the fact that Obama told CBS News last year that playing golf is “the only time that for six hours, I’m outside.”
GAI president Peter Schweizer explains the discrepancy. “Like most people, presidents still do work while on vacation,” he said. “So we really went out of our way to fairly and accurately reflect how the president spends his time.”
Since 2009, the time Obama spends on economic matters has steadily declined: in 2009, he spent 187.2 hours addressing economic concerns; in 2010, it was 127.8 hours; in 2011, 73 hours; in 2012, 80.4 hours.
For the first three months of 2013, the numbers are even worse. Through the end of March, the president has spent only six hours dealing with economic issues, compared to playing six rounds of golf and spending four days on vacation, that account for 48 hours of his leisure time.
In 2012, Obama received some criticism when he played his 100th round of golf. But he has not received anywhere near the level of criticism George W. Bush got, despite the reality that Bush played a total of only 24 rounds during the first two years of his presidency, before giving it up completely six months after the beginning of the war in Iraq. “I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal,” Bush said in a 2008 interview with Yahoo and Politico.com. Even the leftist Daily Beast, which further noted that Obama has spent more time playing golf than meeting with the press, was repulsed by the media’s double standard.
It is a double standard that still applies. The media hammered Bush for his vacations, with the Washington Post characterizing his frequent trips to his ranch in Crawford, Texas as something his critics consider “a lackadaisical approach to the world’s most important day job, an impression bolstered by Bush’s periodic two-hour midday exercise sessions and his disinclination to work nights or weekends.” Yet even the Post was forced to admit that Bush “rarely takes the type of vacation one would consider exotic–or, to some, even appealing.”
Obama, on the other hand, is a lavish vacationer. Just the four vacations to Hawaii he and the First Family have taken every year since his election, have cost more than $20 million. The First Lady and and her daughters, Malia and Sasha, have visited exclusive ski resorts in Colorado each of the last four years as well. While they were there this year, the president spent three days at an exclusive club in Florida, where he was joined by Tiger Woods. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) estimated that golf outing alone cost a million dollars, which was “enough money to save 341 federal workers from furlough.
Those furloughs resulted from the sequester, a reality that is a testament to the president’s disinterest in economic issues. Aside from the reality that it was the president’s idea, between the time he got his tax hikes at the beginning of 2013, and the beginning of sequestration on March 1, there was plenty of time for Obama to bring members of Congress together and work out an alternative. Instead, heembarked on a fear campaign that fell flat despite, the publication of a White House “fact sheet” filled with doom-and-gloom predictions. As a result of that campaign, both parties and the president finally got together for their first meeting on sequester negotiations–on March 1, the same day the sequester began.
As the GAI researchers have documented, such behavior is, if you’ll excuse the expression, par for the course for a president far more interested in the status and trappings of the presidency, than the job requirements of the position.
Schweizer, reflecting the nonpartisan nature of the GAI, remained above criticizing the president. “As a government watchdog group, we just tabulate the numbers and let others decide how to interpret them,” he explained. “People understand that presidents have the most stressful job in the world and need a break from time to time. There will be some who will be encouraged by the numbers, and some who will wish the president spent more time in economic meetings.”
One suspects millions of un- and under-employed Americans are part of the latter category. Ironically, a study released by the Urban Institute may put some of the president’s most ardent supporters on that side of the equation as well. It revealed that the loss of wealth that has occurred during both the recession and recovery of the last five years, has affected blacks and Hispanics far worse than whites, and that this “wealth gap” may still be growing. In other words, it’s still the economy, stupid–even as the president remains appallingly disengaged from that reality.
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