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Economic Gains May Not Help Democrats Much In 2014

The report showed the economy was getting stronger after nearly stalling late last year, when it grew just 0.4 percent in the final three months of 2012.

"It's hard to do victory laps in the climate of slow growth and continued high unemployment," said historian Douglas Brinkley of Rice University.

"A president's job is to rebuild the psyche of the nation," Brinkley said. "And there has been a feeling of incremental improvement after Obama's first term in office. That's the key word, incremental. Presidents have to make the people believe that things are getting better every month.

"A lot of what I'm talking about is the optics of the situation. When Obama came in, things were rotten and then it got better. There is no longer that sense of panic going on."

Obama's efforts have been overshadowed somewhat by several noneconomic issues: the congressional battles over gun safety and immigration and the deadly Boston Marathon bombings.

What steps can Obama rightfully claim that have helped spur economic improvement?

His $830 billion stimulus program of 2009, for one. The White House also cites two other major emergency programs â¿¿ the auto and financial industry bailouts. Both were started under President George W. Bush and expanded by Obama.

The White House suggests Obama's anti-recessionary programs helped nurture the creation of more than 6 million new jobs since the economy bottomed in 2010. Republicans voice skepticism but mainstream economists generally cite substantial gains from the federal efforts in the range of 3 million or more jobs.

The bank bailout, or Troubled Asset Relief Program, turned out to be politically radioactive for many who supported it. But economists generally agree it helped avert a national financial meltdown. And it wound up yielding investment returns to taxpayers of most of the original $700 billion-plus cost.

Obama can't claim credit for some of the biggest contributors to walking the economy back from the brink: actions by the semi-autonomous Federal Reserve, under Chairman Ben Bernanke, to hold down interest rates and lubricate the financial system by injecting around $3 trillion in newly printed money over the past five years.

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