Dump the bad, embrace the good in President Obama’s jobs package

President Barack Obama’s thundering speeches have become like whimpering white noise across America’s fruited plain. In that sense, his jobs speech before Congress last week was barely even noteworthy as acts of political symbolism go.

Like a bikini contestant at Lambeau Field on a cold winter day, Obama is badly over-exposed — frost-bittenly so, as his flagging public opinion poll numbers suggest.

What was noteworthy about the joint session of Congress was that, amid a series of washed out spending ideas best described as failed stimulus 2.0, Obama’s plan actually included a handful of important elements that would improve the nation’s economic condition.

Republicans in Congress would do well to strip the bad from the good, and then approve those positive economic measures — for the good of the country and themselves.

Among the proposals in the president’s package that deserve bipartisan embrace: free trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama; a continuation of payroll tax relief; and an Infrastructure Bank proposal that would leverage the promise of so-called public-private partnerships with a number of strategies Indiana’s conservative Gov. Mitch Daniels pioneered.

This won’t come easy for Republicans. In the hot-and-heavy combat zone that is American politics, sometimes it’s difficult to say to the other side, “Hey, good idea. I agree.”

But Republicans should do so.

In some cases — most notably free trade with Colombia that has heretofore been thwarted by organized labor and their sympathizers in the U.S. Senate — a deal between the president and Congress represents an unmitigated public policy victory for causes long embraced by conservatives.

Still, a bipartisan move by Congressional Republicans to enact a portion of Obama’s jobs plan would have to be done in spite of the president himself.

The tone of the president’s speeches in rallies across America since the big roll-out has been so nauseatingly divisive that a political spectator might be forgiven for thinking that Obama doesn’t want a deal on his jobs bill with Republicans at all.

(A note to those who have recently written letters to the editor asking me to be go easy on Obama, Pelosi and the others who have made a badly broken Washington worse.  My response is no.)

As part of the president’s chest beating, this week the campaigner-in-chief returned to one of his favorite budget bromides, arguing that Congress should close tax loopholes for hedge-fund managers, oil and gas companies and corporate jet owners to help cover the costs of new spending.

So much for post-partisanship. So much for rising above past divisions.

These big words have small worth and the president, as a master of both, knows that. But as with all things Obama, his musings and manueverings have ulterior motive.

Obama has studiously chosen these fights (and shrill words in picking them), as if daring Republicans to bow their backs and reject his jobs package in its entirety.

Why would he want such a thing? Because an unpopular president needs a less-popular foil, and a do-nothing Congress is exactly the adversary Obama hopes to create. Like Clinton to Gingrich, Obama is hoping to resurrect his foundering political fortunes by convincing America, not that he is most good, but rather that in Washington, he is least bad.

There are a million reasons why this strategy is doomed to fail in any case, but that doesn’t change the fact Republicans should do the right thing on Obama’s jobs plan.

In my view, doing the right thing means tossing out the bad (i.e. all of the junk that resembles Stimulus 2.0), approving the good (see above), paying for the initiative with responsible budget cuts, all while bidding the president a hearty congratulations for finally doing something that — alas — actually helps clean up a mess that he played a leading role in helping create.

Josh Penry is a former Colorado Senate Minority leader and a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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