Political Jazzercise

A health care summit is heavy on team-building.

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Layoffs continue to pile up as two senior jobs remain vacant in the Treasury Department. The Senate stalls on an omnibus spending bill the president doesn’t really like, either. But Obama gets his second wind at a summit to take on health care reform. The good news and bad news cancel each other out, for a 5 on the Change-o-Meter.

The economy continued to bleed jobs last month, shedding 651,000 in February. Original estimates for the two previous months were revised upward as well. The unemployment rate spiked to 8.1 percent in February, and economists aren’t exactly predicting clear skies in the coming months. The ‘Meter doesn’t hold Obama personally responsible for this entire economic catastrophe, but it’s still deducting 5 points for continued darkness at the end of the tunnel.

What’s worse, nominees for two top Treasury Department positions bowed out of the confirmation process Thursday, leaving Secretary Timothy Geithner without a top deputy or an undersecretary for international affairs. With the economic reins in desperate need of pulling, the ‘Meter deducts 10 for dash-and-ditch at the worst possible time, bringing today’s subtotal to 15. Could today be the day Obama breaks the widget?

Maybe not. On Thursday, Obama resorted to a little political jazzercise during a half-day health care summit for 150 lawmakers and stakeholders. Obama promised to give equal time to Republican ideas but bluntly warned special interests either to sit this one out or to make moves based on what works rather than cling to their “dug-in positions.” The ‘Meter awards 10 points for this flexing of leadership muscle.

Senate Republicans continued to drag their feet Thursday night over a $410 billion spending bill that Congress couldn’t pass on time last year. Legislators are particularly exasperated by the more than 8,500 pet projects that make up the combined nine spending bills. Obama is also sour about earmarks but is expected to sign it into law. If passed, the bill will also roll back many Bush policies, like more scientific input into endangered species policy. The ‘Meter isn’t thrilled about the earmarks, either, but is slightly more excited about the policy changes, for a net of 10 points. Today’s grand total: 5.

But there’s light at the end of one tunnel for Obama. Monday’s planned repeal of the ban on federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells promises major points. Stay tuned.

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