An Economic Agenda of Doing Less Harm

I’ll have more about this as the president’s speech tour is formally launched on Wednesday in Illinois (at Knox College, where Obama made his first big nationally recognized speech on the economy back in 2005). But it’s clear Obama is preparing for a clash with congressional Republicans over appropriations and quite possibly the debt limit this fall by reminding Americans were are still in a fragile recovery that could become a relapse into recession if the federal government represses consumer demand more than it already has via sequestration.

He’ll talk, no doubt, about positive things we should be doing to build long-term growth, like rebuilding infrastructure, taking advantage of clean energy opportunities, improving the knowledge and skills of the workforce, expanding international trade, etc., etc. But we all know the administration’s ability to get anything positive through Congress is very limited. So the implicit message is the danger of the federal government, via gridlock or the wrong kind of compromise, making things immensely worse.

“Do less harm” is a hell of a message to have to deliver, and Obama will be criticized, as he always is, for having less than a fully thought-through and brilliantly presented step-by-step agenda for the economy. But as we move into another hostage-taking season where Republicans are demanding more public-sector austerity–some of it directly and deliberately pursued through appropriations cuts, some perhaps indirectly imposed as a by-product of Republican-style “tax reform”–the president can only do so much fantasizing about what he might do if economic policymaking was a rational exercise.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.