JIM LEHRER: President Obama countered some down poll numbers today with a trumpet note for his Wall Street reform plan and the selection of a new budget director.
Mr. Obama hailed the Senate’s progress on a financial reform bill as a breakthrough.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Three Republican senators have put politics and partisanship aside to support this reform, and I’m grateful for their decision, as well as all the Democrats who’ve worked so hard to make this reform a reality.
JIM LEHRER: With the backing of those three Republicans, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Democrats now have the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster.
The president then pivoted to his nomination of Jack Lew to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Lew held the same position in the Clinton administration from 1998 to 2001, and he would replace Peter Orszag, who is leaving at the end of the month.
BARACK OBAMA: If there was a hall of fame for budget directors…
BARACK OBAMA: … then Jack Lew surely would have earned a place for his service in that role under President Clinton, when he helped balance the federal budget after years of deficits.
JIM LEHRER: If confirmed, Lew would inherit a budget deficit which has already exceeded a trillion dollars, with a quarter of the fiscal year still left to come.
At the same time, a new “Washington Post”/ABC News poll shows the president’s handling of the federal budget deficit is the weakest of any issue surveyed. Just 40 percent approve of Mr. Obama’s handling of the deficit, while 56 percent disapprove.
The poll also found that 54 percent disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy. And when respondents were asked how much confidence they had in the president to make the right decision for the country’s future, 57 percent said just some or none at all.
Still, Americans showed greater confidence in Mr. Obama than congressional Democrats, who lacked confidence from 67 percent of those surveyed. Republicans fared even worse, at 73 percent.
To help us sort through these numbers, here’s “NewsHour” political editor David Chalian.
David, first of all, is there a message in these numbers that is relevant to these upcoming midterm elections?
DAVID CHALIAN: Oh, no doubt about it.
If you are a member of Congress seeking reelection, you may want to think about another line of work, because there’s no doubt in these numbers we’re seeing nearly seven in 10 Americans, Jim, say they don’t want to reelect their member. They want to look around and see who else is out there.
So, the anti-incumbent, anti-Washington sentiment that has been running so strong even gets further enforced in these numbers.
JIM LEHRER: And it is basically bipartisan, is it not?
DAVID CHALIAN: It is, but, of course, as you know, there are a whole heck of a lot more Democrats sitting there up on Capitol Hill than Republicans. So it is bipartisan, but the Democrats are going to get the brunt of this.
JIM LEHRER: Now, explain the worst news here for President Obama.
DAVID CHALIAN: Well, take a look at this number here. This is the number that scares the White House the most, because it has to do with economic outlook, not just how people feel bereft about that they’re out of a job now, but what may be coming.
Only 27 percent, Jim, a quarter of the country, says that the economy is getting better. The whole rest of the country, three-quarters, say it’s getting worse or staying the same. That is very hard. In the Ronald Reagan theory of, you know, you need to be optimistic to appeal to American voters, that’s not a very optimistic electorate.
JIM LEHRER: Is there any good news in these polls for President Obama and the Democrats?
DAVID CHALIAN: Well, the White House today, Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, pointed to the fact that when you still ask the basic question, who do you trust to handle the economy, voters are still saying they trust Democrats over Republicans. But that’s not translating into their choice between Republicans and Democrats for the congressional balloting.
JIM LEHRER: You have got some specifics on that.
DAVID CHALIAN: I do. Take a look at this.
JIM LEHRER: OK.
DAVID CHALIAN: Among independent voters, the key swing group, 53 percent of likely independent voters say they are going to vote for the Republican candidate. Only 36 percent say Democrats.
You remember, in 2006 and 2008, the Democrats swept to power because of the independents swinging their way. This is a critical bloc this election season. It’s not just about energizing both bases. You have to appeal to the middle. And, right now, the Democrats are losing that argument.
JIM LEHRER: And they’re losing it because of the economy primarily?
DAVID CHALIAN: There’s no doubt about it.
You mentioned the poll numbers inside your piece there. In terms of how Obama’s approval is on the economy, that has dropped seven points since just last month. And that’s with him passing financial regulatory reform or still seeing some job growth.
And yet the country is still decreasing in its appreciation for how he’s handling the economy. That’s not where they want it to be heading into the fall season.
JIM LEHRER: And is that just — just the basic unsettling that people feel about the economy, no matter what the numbers are, no matter what the politicians say?
DAVID CHALIAN: Because it hasn’t turned around enough. They still are either themselves out of work or know somebody out of work. We have not seen — even though we’re seeing the economy itself grow, we have not seen the kind of monthly jobs numbers being added, private sector jobs, added to this economy to actually alter the perception that the economy has turned around.
So right now, the American electorate is stuck into thinking things are just getting worse or staying the same.
JIM LEHRER: Analyze these numbers for the Republicans.
DAVID CHALIAN: Well, the Republicans are giddy about those independent numbers, because…
JIM LEHRER: Giddy?
DAVID CHALIAN: Well, in the sense that they know that that is the key group…
JIM LEHRER: They can’t win without, right?
DAVID CHALIAN: Exactly.
But here’s the thing. Republicans are a little wary. You have to be concerned if you’re a Republican. The brand of the Republican Party that was so badly diminished at the end of the Bush years, in the second Bush term, that led to Obama’s victory, they’re not completely rehabilitated.
You saw there that number that still 73 percent of voters don’t necessarily have faith in the Republicans to solve the country’s problems and get it on the right track. The thing that the Republicans have going for them, the country may not even be looking for an alternative right now. Voters are just so angry at what is that they may be willing to take a risk on what is next without actually buying into the Republican argument.
JIM LEHRER: OK. David, now I get it.
DAVID CHALIAN: I’m glad.
JIM LEHRER: OK. Thank you very much.
DAVID CHALIAN: Thank you.