President Barack Obama was armed with better than expected news about economic growth when he went to the Capitol today, where he’s having separate meetings with House and Senate Democrats but having nothing at all to do with Republicans.
The economy grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.7 percent this spring, the Commerce Department reported. The consensus view of economists was for the second quarter expansion to be just under 1 percent — which would have been such a meager number as to suggest an impending stall.
The new number for April, May and June is also better than the government’s 1.1 percent revised gross domestic product growth estimate for January, February and March.
And so, instead of having to pitch his policies in the face of concerns about economic sluggishness, Obama was able to suggest an impending acceleration during his back-to-back meetings with the two Democratic caucuses. He was planning to ask lawmakers for help selling his agenda during the August recess, after which Congress will be unavoidably returned to decisions about spending levels and the debt ceiling.
“Jobs. Middle Class. Growth,” the president said as he left his hourlong meeting with House members in the Capitol Visitor Center and headed to his session with senators. (The House Democrats provided Obama, who turns 52 on Sunday, with a dark chocolate cake topped with a fondant presidential seal.)
The president was also planning to pitch Democrats on the corporate tax cut and infrastructure spending deal he offered to Republicans on Tuesday, which the GOP spurned almost immediately.
One main reason for the quickening pace of the economy was that total federal government spending, which plunged 8.4 percent as the sequester took effect in the first quarter, declined only 1.5 percent in the second quarter. And state and local governments increased spending for the first time in a year.
The two parties can be counted on to provide opposite analysis of those numbers.
Congressional Republicans will say they underscore that the economy is doing just fine in the face of those deep and across-the-board spending reductions and that, while they’d like to shift more to defense and away from domestic programs, there's no economic reason to abandon the lower spending grand total the law dictates for the coming fiscal year.
Obama and the Hill’s Democrats will say the GDP figures are a great indicator of just how much better the economy might perform if only the sequester were turned off.
The GDP is the broadest measure of the nation’s output of goods and services. Commerce makes several rounds of revisions to its estimates as more detailed information comes in, and today the department said its final estimate for economic growth last year would be 2.8 percent, up from its previous election-year estimate of 2.2 percent.