The unfinished agenda: jobs

Posted: Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The following editorialappeared in the Miami Heraldon Friday:

A lthough chastened by political and legislative defeats recently, President Obama came out swinging in his address to Congress, exhorting Democrats to stay the course on health-care reform and challenging Republicans to come up with better ideas if they cannot support his.

In many ways, it was a typical State of the Union speech - long on rhetoric and short on details (what did he mean by offering support for offshore drilling?), conciliatory in parts, combative in others. Above all, the president understands that the economy remains the main concern of most Americans and he offered several initiatives to address the problem.

Among his best ideas were a call to help small businesses spur private growth and generate jobs.

He called for the elimination of the capital gains tax on small business investments and asked Congress to provide tax credits for small businesses that add jobs or provide raises for current employees. Congress should make both of these initiatives, which drew solid applause from the GOP side of the aisle, a priority.

Other welcome parts of his speech included a call to strengthen trade relations "with key partners like South Korea, Panama and Colombia."

Again, though, he was woefully short of details. The Colombia Free Trade Agreement has been on the shelf for too long, thanks to opposition by unions and many Democratic lawmakers. Obama failed to make clear whether he is willing to pressure members of his party to enact this measure.

The president signaled that he had heard the rising chorus of complaints about the soaring national debt, which will soon hit $14.3 trillion - about $45,000 for every American. His decision to create a bipartisan Fiscal Commission to provide "a specific set of solutions" is a good idea, as is his support of "pay-as-you-go" budget rules in Congress designed to reduce deficit spending.

None of this, however, can be done unless Obama takes a more active role in making sure that his proposals don't end up in the circular file.

The president seemed disappointed that he has failed to get credit for what his administration has achieved in one short year. To an extent, he is right.

As he was quick to point out, the recovery act that Congress passed at his urging last February helped to stave off an even worse recession. So did the decisions to save the auto industry and shore up big banks - a move he called "as popular as a root canal." These may have cost him politically, but he defended the actions as necessary.

Even so, with the economy still struggling and his healthcare reform bill stuck in limbo, the president should not be surprised at the sour mood in the country. Too much remains undone while partisanship and division keep the government in a permanent state of gridlock.

Too often the president has seemed content to let senior Democrats in Congress carry the ball on major initiatives while he coaches from the sidelines. That will have to change if he expects to make any progress.

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