Mr. President, Do Something Or Get Out Of The Way
by Deacon Blues
There is a leadership vacuum in this country, and it starts and ends with Barack Obama. For all the talk about hope and change, this president and his political team are already out of ideas, sadly bereft of guts, and tragically wrong in their thinking about how to get reelected.
Various voices over the last week, ranging from Dana Milbank, Maureen Dowd, and Robert Reich have all pinpointed the White House's lack of economic leadership at a time when the public is clamoring for action on jobs and the economy. According to Reich's sources inside the White House, Obama's political advisors have hitched their wagons to the notion that a presidential focus on the deficit can divert attention away from a lack of energy and initiative to tackle the jobs crisis. If so, then Barack Obama deserves to be a one-term president for willingly consigning millions of Americans to economic ruin. Unfortunately, he'll be taking the Democratic Party down with him.
It's not that there aren't options. It's just that Obama and his political team haven't the guts or intelligence to pursue them. This is nothing new for this terribly overrated White House, a team that walked away from the jobs issue in August 2009 to chase health care, and who opted for a woefully ineffective stimulus package rather than heed the advice of the economic team and fight for one that would work. Now, the best Obama can do is bemoan the S&P decision and talk about the bad hand he was dealt when he came into office. Well Boo-Hoo Mr. President. This economy is yours now, as is your inability or unwillingness to address what you should have been focusing on all along: jobs and homes. Going to Michigan to talk about green jobs once again is way too detached and way too far off in the future for everyday Americans to feel that Obama gets it, or cares about the here and now. It only reinforces the belief that this president and White House are already out of gas and ideas, and have no roadmap forward. So why would voters not listen to a Mitt Romney or even Rick Perry, who are assuredly wrong in what they'll propose but at least have a plan?
There are things the president can do, if he had the intelligence and willingness to lead. There needs to be discussion of a second stimulus before the election season begins, because voters will not accept a president who does nothing through 2012. Ideally, the White House would be talking about something large enough to not only start working before the end of 2012, but to also change the narrative and public psychology. But Obama swallowed the Kool Aid peddled by the Very Serious People about debt and deficits, when he should be doing as Reich and others suggest, which is to offer a bold plan, and fight for it all the way to the election.
Yes, the GOP will fight anything he tries, and yes, the Super Committee hasn't even started its work yet and its makeup indicates gridlock. Let's be honest: the Super Committee will not agree on tax and revenue increases, so there's no way the Senate will approve their recommendations, nor should they. As we've said around these parts already, Obama and the congressional Democrats should be planning for the committee to fail and for the automatic cuts to kick in. Naturally, Obama already gave away his hand last week by rejecting any more cuts to defense. Congressional Democrats should tell the White House that Obama shouldn't be taking anything off the table this early, and that they won't be following his lead on this. What they should be telling the president is that he needs to act as if the cuts are coming and that there won't be any deal on taxes or revenue expected from the GOP, thereby putting tax expenditures back into the mix for a possible solution to the jobs problem.
Tax expenditures currently cost the Treasury over $1 trillion a year. The GOP will whine about any second stimulus and the spending behind it, so the White House should design a package comprised of WPA-style infrastructure investments, block grant aid to state and local governments, and yes, mortgage help that matters. How to pay for it? Why not tap into some of those tax expenditures and close those loopholes, using that money for investing in people and families, rather than the false hope that such revenue can be redirected for a better tax system. The GOP's idea of tax reform is to lower taxes for the wealthy and corporations; the Tea Party has no interest in broadening the tax base and raising more revenue, so Democrats should drop the false hope right now.
The only "tax reform" Democrats should be counting on for the near term is the expiration of the Bush tax cuts in 2013. Any discussion of tax reform should take place after the restoration of the Clinton rates and nothing should be acted upon until we get back to a rate schedule that yielded more fairness and growth than anything we've seen since. And there should be no deals on tax reform with this current Congress. Sure, Obama wants to cut deals like an overeager puppy, and yes, letting the Bush tax cuts expire would raise taxes on everyone, but that's the only way to have true leverage over the GOP and to have a truly fair starting point for tax reform; everyone needs to have skin in the game.
Financing a second stimulus through tax expenditures places the GOP in an untenable position, and would also be supported by the public. It would demonstrate that the Democrats are not willing to throw millions over the cliff for the false dogma from bond vigilantes and confidence fairies. Congressional Democrats should be talking with the White House now about coordinating strategy for the Super Committee and planning for a deadlock, and having a tax expenditure-financed second stimulus ready to go as an alternative.
And if the timid and brain dead White House doesn't want to go along, then Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi need to tell them they're on their own, and that incumbent Democrats are not going to be victims of this White House. Congressional Democrats need to show voters they have a plan and the energy and willingness to fight for jobs now, even if the White House doesn't.