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DISMAL Bad as Obamacare is, economy best GOP issue

Republicans are salivating at the opportunity to run in this fall's Congressional elections against the bad bill of goods that is Obamacare. If that's all they run on, or even the main thing they run on, they'll be making a mistake.

Granted, there is plenty toxic about Obamacare, most notably the fact that most Americans now believe President Obama lied to them about it. That won't be forgotten in November. And as other realities of the ill-designed program become evident in the months ahead, such as $10,000 deductibles and very limited choices of doctors and hospitals under many of the policies people are now required by law to buy, anger will only rise.

But as bad as Obamacare is, the issue the Democrats are more vulnerable on - the one Americans really care more about - is the economy and jobs. If Republicans really want to take control of Congress later this year, they need to heed Bill Clinton's successful presidential campaign mantra: It's the economy, stupid.

Economists and the Obama administration contend that we are well into an economic recovery - almost five years in, in fact, although economists concede it is the weakest recovery on record.

But the people who count - citizens - don't agree. An ABC News/Washington Post poll last month found that an astounding 80 percent of the American people believe the economy is still in recession. Of that same group, 55 percent disapprove of President Obama's job performance and an identical 55 percent disapprove of his handling of the economy. Clearly, that disapproval and blame extend to the president's party.

Last Friday's disturbing employment report pours more fuel onto this fire. Economists and financial analysts were shocked that the nation added only 74,000 jobs in December. Unemployment actually fell to 6.7 percent, but virtually all of that was the result of people dropping out of the workforce. The labor participation rate fell back to 62.8 percent, a 35-year low, as thousands of unemployed either retired or gave up looking.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the "long-term unemployed" - those out of work 27 weeks or more, numbered 3.9 million in December, or 37.7 percent of all unemployed. In fact, 2.6 million of that number have been out of work for more than a year.

Monthly job growth in 2013 averaged 182,000 - almost unchanged from 2012 and well below the 250,000 or more economists believe is required for the "escape velocity" needed to return the economy to a healthy growth rate.

Republicans in Congress currently find themselves conflicted about a proposal to further extend unemployment benefits that expired for 1.3 million long-term unemployed in December. Some argue, with merit, that if we are really four-and-a-half years into a recovery, further extending "emergency" unemployment benefits makes no sense; rather, it creates the moral hazard of encouraging chronic unemployment.

We think the better course for Republicans would be to accept the president's argument that an extension is needed, pointing it up as further evidence of how thoroughly his economic policies are failing. They'll find plenty of agreement on that from the American people.

What the average unemployed American wants these days is a job. Democratic policies over the past half-decade haven't provided it, and last week's employment report says things are getting worse, not better. That's the point Republicans should really drive home if they want to succeed in November.

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