Yesterday, President Obama went before the country, trying to calm financial markets upset by S&P’s downgrade of our debt. Traders watched, listened, and then doubled up on their sell orders. The markets suffered one of the worst drops in history – and delivered a stinging rebuke to the president.
Why this reaction? The president has nothing to offer. In his statement, he promises to “present my own recommendations over the coming weeks on how we should proceed.” Really? That’s the best he can do? After months of intense focus on our budget issues, the president and his crack financial team needs more time to come up solutions? It’s unimaginable.
Here’s what President Obama should have done:
First, the country needs reassurance that Mr. Obama is a leader. He needs to crack some skulls if necessary to show he can get our unruly Congress in line to produce legislation helpful to the country. He should gather the leadership of both parties, of both houses, and deliver a peace pact. He should offer to stop demonizing sincere attempts to solve our country’s budget problems, in return for help in passing bills attractive to both parties. He should forcefully ask Congress to play ball, for the good of the country, and put aside his overarching reelection drive. He doesn’t need a reset with Russia; he needs a reset with Congress.
Next, he should assemble said political leaders for a joint press event, in which he and they present a cohesive, if not united, front to the country. They should announce that Congress will return from its August recess, so that important work will go forward.
Select four items that have broad bipartisan appeal and announce they will be enacted forthwith. These might include:
1. Passing our trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Columbia.
2. Beginning the process of serious tax reform with specific changes that could appeal to the populace.
3. Eliminating five ridiculous and wasteful government programs just to show it can be done (Senator Coburn might be tasked with this chore).
4. Announcing that the EPA will hold back on ozone regulations that businesses view as potentially harmful. (There are many new pending regulations that should be dumped, but the ozone law seems especially capricious. The study supposedly backing the new limits hasn’t even been completed. The point on this rule, as on so many others – if it could cost us even one job -- why take the chance?)
Not everyone will agree with these choices, but most Americans would be cheered to see their political leaders hunkering down and addressing our problems.
There is a sense in America that our government is in complete collapse.
The trade pacts are a good example. Everyone wants them completed, but they continue to languish.
In the meantime, other countries and the EU are signing similar deals and getting a huge head start on American suppliers. It is maddening, and inexcusable. Both the president and Congress have taken huge reputational hits during the budget debate; both should be eager to appear ready to solve our nation’s problems.
President Obama next needs to present hisbudget plan to the country. Though it is doubtless appealing to avoid the hard work of actually proposing changes to Medicare or Social Security, the White House has acknowledged the need to do so on many occasions. Republicans, led by Paul Ryan, have led the way here, and been pummeled for their efforts.
President Obama has so far been a no-show, and few Americans are impressed. His budget that was presented in February was so completely out of touch with reality that it was rejected by the Senate 97-0. That’s quite an accomplishment; at least we know the Senate can agree on something.
It is now time for President Obama to endorse or repudiate the ideas of his fiscal deficit commission. He needs to commit, and soon. This might actually help his campaign ambitions. Critics have often seized on his “no-show” votes in the Illinois State Senate, and his lack of publishing as a law professor as evidence that Mr. Obama, for all his eloquence, is an empty suit. His refusal to wade into the budget mess furthers that narrative. Time to stand tall, Mr. President – give us your ideas.
Americans worry there is no way out of this mess. They are wrong. The best tonic for our deficits and for our unemployment is growth.
Sadly, promoting growth is way down the to-do list of this administration. Instead, Obama’s agencies teem with eager reformers whose resumes will only be burnished by enlarging the tangled cobweb of regulation. Our recovery from the financial crisis has been significantly hindered by anti-business rules and rhetoric that have dampened the animal spirits of our entrepreneurs and managers. Time to shift gears.
Finally, President Obama should swear off class warfare. He was elected to be a uniter, not a divider. Americans are essentially fair-minded, and value our land of opportunity.
The president has embraced a culture of envy, which undermines our celebration of achievement. Mr. Obama, of all people, should value the open doors that are the very heart of what makes our country great.