Step up, Mr. President

President Barack Obama took some important steps regarding budget issues this week, but he needs to jump into the fray with more determination.

Obama deserves credit for meeting with members of both parties to attempt to resolve the dispute over which of the Bush tax cuts should be extended before the new year starts. Even Republicans said the initial meetings were productive.

But Democratic leaders in the House Wednesday threatened to unravel those fragile negotiations by forcing a vote today on one portion of the tax cuts, angering Republicans in the process.

Obama should tell House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and other Democratic leaders to back off on their plans to vote on extending tax cuts only for those who make less than $250,000 a year. While the president has said repeatedly that’s the plan he favors, pushing a vote on it now undercuts the negotiations and it appears aimed only at backing House Republicans into a corner.

Obama pledged to end earmarks in federal budgeting when he was a candidate for president, but he was nowhere to be seen this week when Senate Republicans — and a handful of Democrats that included Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall — tried unsuccessfully to pass an amendment to end earmarks.

In both houses of Congress, a partisan deadlock is developing over Democratic efforts to push a handful of politically contentious issues in the lame-duck session, while Republicans demand that Congress deal with tax and budget issues first.

Obama should proclaim that while a new nuclear arms treaty, the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays, and the DREAM Act for children of illegal immigrants are all important policy debates, they should be put on the back burner until tax certainty is established for next year and operating budgets for federal agencies are approved.

We applaud the president’s proposal for a limited federal pay freeze, even if there are a significant number of loopholes in it. In an economy when many private workers and public employees in state and local governments haven’t had pay raises for several years, it is symbolically important for federal workers to share that sacrifice. The projected savings of $28 billion over five years are not insignificant.

But Obama needs to also take a greater role in pushing other measures to curb federal spending and rein in the deficit. The just-released recommendations by the chairmen of his deficit reduction commission offer a good place to start. We hope that beginning Friday, when the full, 18-member commission is to vote on the recommendations, Obama will take a strong and forceful position to enact many of those recommendations.

And, when fainthearted members of both parties hesitate in supporting such changes, he should demand that they offer their own feasible alternatives for dealing with the deficit.

President Obama has demonstrated leadership in a few areas this week, but unless he steps up and uses his soapbox aggressively, Congress is in danger of falling once more into partisan bickering and inaction on critical issues.


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