Yesterday—three days before the tenth anniversary of 9/11 (and with the government on alert to possible terror threats in New York and Washington, D.C.), President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress. He asked—17 times—that his proposed $447 billion American Jobs Act be passed “right now.”
CBS’s Nora O’Donnell put it succinctly: “The President came out fighting tonight.” Colleague Bob Schieffer, long a keen observer of Washington politics, stated that Mr. Obama was “not the cool, detached college professor.” He exhibited, “a lot of Harry Truman.”
I’m delighted that the President showed some cojones—Spanish for, simply put, “balls.” As the nation’s economy struggles, it’s more than time to tell it like it is.
The President cited a number of objectives in the new jobs legislation: helping small business (although CBS’s Anthony Mason correctly noted that small business owners don’t hire when taxes are cut but when demand grows), repairing the nation’s infrastructure, putting teachers back to work and greeting returning veterans not just with kind words but with job opportunities. He also called for reforming the tax code, which did not seem to inspire House Majority leader John Boehner, who I thought looked a bit uncomfortable. I suspect that Mr. Boehner is willing to support much of the President’s proposals but faces continuing opposition on the far right.
Mr. Obama took on Democrats, too. He called for gradual adjustments to Medicare and Medicaid (while protecting Social Security from cuts). No one doubts the need for healthcare, but Democrats have been lax in not recognizing that rising health care costs are outstripping the country’s ability to pay for these programs. Sensible changes need to be discussed—and made.
Back to the Republicans: Mr. Obama acknowledged that America is a land of rugged individualists (as I recall, Ronald Reagan bought his ranch with Hollywood money; George W. Bush leveraged family connections) but “no single individual built America on their own.” Rather, he emphasized, “We’re all connected and must assist each other.” The federal government, he pointed out, underwrote the Transcontinental Railroad and Land Grant colleges that brought rugged individualists across this vast nation a wide variety of goods plus the great benefits of higher education.
As to the Republican response, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said, “My way or the highway doesn’t work. What works is building consensus.” Memo to Mr. Cantor: that’s what the President has attempted to do. You and your party bear the brunt of his failure.
Last night won’t end the President’s fiery comments. He will take his case to the American people in speeches across the country. Yes, he will have to provide details on the source of funds for the American Jobs Act to show that he is serious. But he has now demonstrated a welcome new passion by challenging Congress. “We can stop the political circus,” he said. Perhaps the clowns will take off their greasepaint and get to work.
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