Within a few minutes of the Senate approving the debt-ceiling agreement and sending it to the White House, President Obama spoke from the Rose Garden for about eight minutes. Here’s the video:
What I found interesting about the remarks was the subject matter. I expected Obama to take some time to defend the deal, and point to what he sees as its strengths. And the president did note some of the reasons he accepted the terms of the agreement, while also stressing the need for a “balanced approach” and “fairness” as the process continues to the next step.
But Obama more or less brushed past all of this, and quickly focused on “what the American people care most about: new jobs, higher wages and faster economic growth.” It was rather reassuring to hear the president note the disconnect between the Washington establishment’s priorities and the priorities of everyone else.
“While Washington has been absorbed in this debate about deficits, people across the country are asking what we can do to help the father looking for work. What are we going to do for the single mom who’s seen her hours cut back at the hospital? What are we going to do to make it easier for businesses to put up that ‘now hiring’ sign?
“That’s part of the reason that people are so frustrated with what’s been going on in this town. In the last few months, the economy has already had to absorb an earthquake in Japan, the economic headwinds coming from Europe, the Arab Spring and the [rise] in oil prices — all of which have been very challenging for the recovery.
“But these are things we couldn’t control. Our economy didn’t need Washington to come along with a manufactured crisis to make things worse. That was in our hands. It’s pretty likely that the uncertainty surrounding the raising of the debt ceiling — for both businesses and consumers — has been unsettling, and just one more impediment to the full recovery that we need. And it was something that we could have avoided entirely.”
Obama proceeded to look ahead, touting “bipartisan, common-sense steps” that will “make a difference,” including an extension of the payroll tax cut, an extension of unemployment benefits, patent reform, trade deals, and most notably infrastructure investments. As he put it, “We have workers who need jobs and a country that needs rebuilding; an infrastructure bank would help us put them together.”
I agree with just about all of this, and it’s reassuring to see the president keep his eyes on the real prize.
There are, however, a few nagging concerns. First, we’ve heard about “pivots” to job creation before, but these efforts have been knocked off track, in part because Republicans’ priorities lie elsewhere. Second, and on a related note, by endorsing these economy-improving measures out loud, Obama has probably guaranteed their fate — the congressional GOP opposes whatever the White House is for. In this case, Republican opposition will undermine the economy, but by all indications, GOP officials don’t consider this much of a downside.
And third, truth be told, even if Congress were to approve all of the measure Obama mentioned, we’re still talking about a limited economic agenda. It will help, but the impact will be modest.
We need a bolder and more ambitious approach, which became impossible with Americans’ votes in November 2010.