Obama's to-do list can't wait

After a hard-fought campaign, the president must turn immediately to the fiscal cliff and the nation's debt limit. Already, a credit-rating agency is warning of a possible downgrade.

By Anthony Mirhaydari Nov 7, 2012 11:30AM

Image: American Eagle © Steve Allen, Brandx Pictures, PhotolibraryIn the wake of the bare-knuckled brawl with GOP contender Mitt Romney, President Barack Obama's emotions likely ran from aching exhaustion to ebullience and excitement last night as he took the stage with his family to celebrate his re-election.


But soon after, no doubt, a creeping worry set in as he took stock of what lies ahead. While he won't have to win the approval of voters again, if he wants to protect his legacy, Obama must get to work. Fast.


While he's no rookie when it comes to facing tough choices as a just-elected president -- he faced a financial crisis and economic catastrophe when inaugurated back in January 2009 -- the current list of fiscal and foreign-policy needs is nothing to sneeze at.


On the overseas front, he faces the rise of terrorism in Africa, Iran vs. Israel, Iran's growing influence in Iraq, the Taliban resurgent in Afghanistan via Pakistan, Iran's nuclear ambitions, China's increasing power and growing military might, Russia's growing assertiveness, the Eurozone crisis, territorial battles in the Pacific over the various island groups, and the ongoing drug war in Mexico.


Here at home, the problems are more immediate and will require compromise with the House of Representatives, which America has once again given to the Republicans. While the country said it's tired of the gridlock in Washington, and watched in horror as politicians torpedoed the economy and the financial markets in the summer of 2011 over the debt-ceiling battle, they also reelected the status quo.


This time, status quo won't be good enough.  Here's what's on the to-do list.


The fiscal cliff and debt ceiling

Job one is addressing the fiscal cliff of tax hikes and spending cuts worth some 5% of GDP set to hit on Jan. 1. Also, the U.S. Treasury is quickly moving towards its $16.4 trillion debt ceiling. This challenge, which I wrote about in "How to avoid the fiscal cliff," is the focus of Wall Street's attention. Expectations are that Obama and the Republicans cobble together a smaller, $300 billion deficit package worth around 2% of GDP.


But even this will require tough choices on issues like payroll tax cuts, extended unemployment benefits and the Bush tax cuts. Failure to act, or to dig up a big-minded, structural solution like the one proposed by the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission, would rattle markets and once again threaten America's credit rating. As I've said before, the real long-term deficit problem is tied to an overpriced and inefficient health care system.


Wasting no time, the analysts at Fitch have already warned that Obama will get no fiscal honeymoon as he faces a 2013 credit downgrade if the fiscal cliff isn't avoided. And failure to act on the debt ceiling, which they believe will be hit in early 2013, would undermine confidence in the United States as a reliable borrower and thus its "AAA" status. (Standard & Poor's cut our AAA rating last summer.)


CEOs' lack of confidence

My immediate reaction to last night's result was "Will Atlas shrug?" -- alluding to the recent drop in CEO confidence and the slashing of hiring intentions and capital expenditures by executives. If those in the corner office fear more regulation, more taxation and more market-shaking fiscal chaos, they may very well continue to pull back. This, as Ayn Rand warned, could suck the wind out of the sails of the economy at a time when GDP growth is struggling to stay at 2% despite massive and increasingly inflationary monetary policy support.


I'll be watching measures of CEO confidence as well as capital spending closely.


The jobs deficit

While Obama and Romney touted dueling gauges of the job market (Romney taking about the jobs deficit, Obama talking about string of monthly job creation) the fact remains that there are still far too many people out of work. We are 6.4 million full-time jobs below where we were in late 2007 before the recession hit; despite an 11 million increase in the population over that period.


So to get the employment to population ratio back to its pre-recession level, we need to create 17.4 million jobs.


At the current rate of monthly job creation, we'll never get there. Year-to-date, we're creating 169,000 jobs per month on average, while the population is growing an average of 190,000 per month.


Stagnant wages

The final problem Obama must address is the stagnation of middle-class wages. You see, many of the jobs created over the last few months have been part-time, low-wage, no-benefit positions. And those with full-time positions are seeing employers increase their benefit contributions, not their take home pay. Until workers see a real, meaningful increase in their paychecks, the economy will continue to struggle.


Last month, the annual growth rate of average hourly earnings for non-supervisory employees fell to just 1.1% -- a record low. Adding to the problem is that inflation is pushing higher again, which will result in a higher cost of living for families.


If President Obama wants to improve his favorability and approval ratings, he needs to extend a hand across the aisle and find a way to cobble together a solution to these problems with the Republicans in Congress.  A repeat of the political blood feud we've seen over the last two years, between the Tea Party Republicans in Congress and Obama's White House would be a nightmare.


You know, in retrospect, maybe Mitt Romney should've been the one celebrating last night.


Be sure to check out Anthony's new investment newsletter, the Edge, and his money management service, Mirhaydari Capital Management. A two-week free trial has been extended to MSN Money readers. Click the link above to sign up. Mirhaydari can be contacted at anthony@edgeletter.c​om and followed on Twitter at @EdgeLetter. You can view his current stock picks here. Feel free to comment below.


Nov 7, 2012 5:42PM
It's time for we, the Republicans, to reach across the aisle and make this thing work rather than trying to derail a Democrat from winning.   The vote is in.  Obama is the president.  If we don't work with him there could be a spate of recalls of our guys.  Working together for the betterment of this country is what is needed, not partisian bickering and obstructionism. 
Nov 7, 2012 5:31PM
This country's done, i don't want to see what it will look like in 4 years,everythings so expensive now at the grocery store, and just think of what the inflation is going to be like in 4 years, scary....
Nov 7, 2012 5:29PM


Congress and the President can work together in the blink of an eye.  If any agency downgrades the U.S. credit rating, our government will be all over them, investigating them, subpoena their files, accuse them of being un-American, leaping into action!  See?  All you need is a little faith.


Whoever is in the White House, it couldn't happen to a nicer bum.



Nov 7, 2012 5:28PM
Yep he has a to-do list but he doesn't have a clue on how to fix the economy.  Here comes the clift.. 
Nov 7, 2012 5:25PM

stop the winning obama was elected so shut the f--- up and live with it  now i am headed down to the      disability office to collect,  thank you obama  the rest of you go back to work so you can pay your taxes

Nov 7, 2012 5:21PM

The truth will come out on Benghazi, as Obama wanted the Ambassador killed, as he new where the bodies were buried in the arms deal be brokered for Obama.


As for Russia, Obama  will give them what they want, now that he is re-elected.  As for Israel, America will withdraw their support, leaving it open to Iran for agression.

Nov 7, 2012 5:20PM
rizzo51 do you really think only white people voted for mitt. or are you just voting for a black guy. i am black and you are raciest.    
Nov 7, 2012 5:15PM
Welcome to the new welfare communist country of the USA.  Hope all you morons who voted for Obama are happy when your taxes skyrocket to pay for Obamacare.  Your great grandchildren will be paying off the national debt, which is now over 16 trillions dollars......
Nov 7, 2012 5:12PM
Well, Obama has 4 more years as President, but he has considerably far less time than that to save our country from financial collapse.  Since nothing has changed in Washington as a result of this election, the President, Congress, the Senate and the House MUST stop their bickering and put aside their super-egos and do what is right for the people of this country before it is too late, if it's not already too late. John Baynor (not sure I spelled his name correctly), has got to get down off his high horse, drop the attitude problem and work with the President, side by side.  The people of our great country  cannot take anymore games by politicians, games that are hurting us very badly!.
Nov 7, 2012 5:02PM

Obama's to do list!


1) Become more socialist like Europe


2) Let anyone in the country without consequences


3) borrow another 5 trillion dollars over the next 4 years 


  I'd like to hide that paper behind the fridge!

Nov 7, 2012 4:54PM
Congratulations to all the garbage Americans, you can continue to feed of us that work for a living. Sale your crack on the streets and  continue having your children do to the fact they are your income, and collect the government help you need. You have insurance you do not deserve. to bad people voted to fill there own agendas and not to help out the USA. This guy yesterday finally realized  that the economy is bad and said " i now know what the people are looking for and its a better economy." (No crap) this is a sad day for real Americans i agree. and a happy day for all the bottom feeders.      
Nov 7, 2012 4:51PM
You are right this is one of the best articals that I have read in a long time. I pray that this country can work together and fix some of there problems.
Nov 7, 2012 4:31PM
The "FREE RIDE" mantra needs to stop!
Nov 7, 2012 4:29PM
How many years can this president keep blaming Bush, when will he take responsibility for anything?
Nov 7, 2012 4:18PM
LOL...the only thing thriving today in the market is...health care and hospital stocks.  Hard to figure that one out.
Nov 7, 2012 4:13PM
2016 the movie....more prophetic now than ever. 
Nov 7, 2012 4:13PM
You got to realize Obama does not care. As long as he is Commander in Chief the minions can fend for themselves. Another round of golf anyone? Its about time for a Hawaii vacation for the Obama's He'll take care of it after that.
Nov 7, 2012 4:04PM
Well it looks like Obama is well on his way to destroy the US.
Nov 7, 2012 4:02PM
You know the answer:  When all else fails, blame Bush.
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