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Obama, his approval rate sliding on stimulus spending, vows to create 600,000 new jobs. Is friction in his economic team to blame?

June 8, 2009 | 10:38 am

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Economics guru Larry Summers, who was shown the door as Harvard University's president after he alienated much of the faculty there, has since returning to Washington managed to clash with almost every other member of the Obama economic team.

According to the New York Times, Summers "forcefully debated" Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner over what to do with troubled banks, clashed with Budget Director Peter R. Orszag and Council of Economic Advisers Chairwoman Christina Romer over health issues, and collided with economist Austan Goolsbee over whether to rescue Chrysler.

Team Obama is downplaying the story, arguing that President Obama is a great navigator who never lets dissension delay decision but welcomes rigorous debate.

“You can’t assemble a group of really brilliant people, and deal with some of the most complex problems in our lifetimes and not have disagreements,” said senior political guru David Axelrod.

And frankly, the White House has bigger problems now. Unemployment just hit 9.4%. Republican critics like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are arguing that the president's massive $787 billion stimulus package is just not working. And the latest Gallup Poll shows that only 45% of Americans now approve of Obama's handling of federal spending, and 46% approve of his handling of the federal budget deficit.

So, ever sensitive to shifts in public opinion, the White House is moving into action.

This morning, Obama and Vice President Biden announced that money from the stimulus package -- so far trickling out of Washington in a sluggish way -- would be speeded up to create 600,000 new jobs over the next 100 days on everything from improvements in national parks to youth summer jobs.

"We have a long way to go on our road to recovery but we are going the right way," Obama said in a statement, just before meeting with his Cabinet. "Our measure of progress is the progress the American people see in their own lives. And until that progress is steady and solid; we're going to keep moving forward. We will not grow complacent or rest. Surely and steadily, we will turn this economy around."

Under the plans detailed today, 1,129 health centers would expand their services, the Interior Department would begin work on 107 national parks, the Labor Department would create 125,000 summer youth jobs and improvements would be undertaken at 90 veterans medical centers.

Plus 5,000 law enforcement officers would be hired, while the Department of Agriculture would start 200 new waste and water systems in rural areas and the Environmental Protection Agency would begin or accelerate cleanup at 20 hazardous waste sites.

As he repeated for the cameras his line that, "We have a long way to go," Obama pounded on the desk.

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo credit:  Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images, of Obama's first Cabinet meeting April 20.

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