Too Little, Too Late From Obama on Unemployment

Republicans won't find answers in the Book of Reagan this time.

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Winston Churchill once said of the American people that they always do the right thing--after they have exhausted all the alternatives. While President Barack Obama still has not done what it will take to jumpstart a stalled economy, students of his administration will record that this was the week that he finally started to “get it.”

His proposal to invest $50 billion in infrastructure, permanently extend tax credits for research and development, allow businesses to write off investments in plants and equipment through 2011, and even his convoluted and excessively cumbersome so-called “tax cuts for small business,” will not do much to turn the economy around any time soon. Nor will they save Congressional Democrats seats, or even control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections. There, Obama’s fellow partisans are already in trouble for following the president and their leadership into the buzz saws of “healthcare,” “cap-and-trade,” and “financial reform,” when voters clamored for greater focus on the economy. Anemic and late as they are, Obama’s proposals betray at least a grudging recognition that in deciding where to expand and invest, owners of businesses, respond more to incentives than to wishful thinking and punitive tax and regulation policy. That is a positive sign.

Republicans should congratulate the president on his turnaround, take credit for getting him to see the light, and begin pressing him to do even more. Now that even Peter Orszag, Obama’s departed OMB director, has suggested delaying repeal of the Bush tax cuts on people in the highest tax brackets, it will be harder for Democrats to paint Republicans who seek to make them permanent as either insensitive or favoring the rich.

Now that they are winning the argument they waged for the past 19 months, Republicans have a chance to prove both that they have learned from their mistakes and that they are able to govern--or at least share in the setting of national priorities. That means working with Obama, while deriding his “too little too late” approach and pressing him to do even more.

Will they rise to the challenge or fall into the trap Obama’s handlers have set for them and oppose everything the President proposes, even measures that might be rightfully described as “Republican ideas”? In deciding how to meet this challenge, for once, they will find little in the Book of Reagan to guide them. He famously cautioned to ideologues within his tent that a fellow who is prepared to give you 80 percent of what you want is not your enemy. When offered such as deal, it was the Gipper’s wont to sign on, before returning for as much of the remaining 20 percent as he could get. But how would he have approached an offer of 40 percent or even less of what he wanted? With neither side of Pennsylvania Avenue currently under their control, that is a question Reagan’s current day successors must decide. How they come down on this one may decide not only Obama’s long-term fate but also theirs.

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