The lukewarm response to President Barack Obama's reasonable proposals this week to stimulate the economy reflect the gridlock in Washington and voters' impatience with the slow recovery. At this point, anything the Democratic president suggests will be shot down by Republicans smelling election-year gains. And the reality is that there is no tax cut or public investment that will miraculously revive the economy and make everyone feel better by Election Day.
The administration's latest recommendations are not particularly new, and they previously have had broad support. Expanding and making permanent a tax credit for research and allowing companies to write off all of their capital costs for investing in plants and equipment through 2011 previously have been embraced by Republicans. They would encourage large corporations to invest some of their profits, and they would spur economic growth. They were promoted by Republican Sen. John McCain during his campaign for president. But there is no rush by members of either party to embrace these tax cuts — in part because Obama packaged them with another attempt to stimulate the economy.
The president's proposal to create a $50 billion infrastructure bank to help pay for improved roads, rail lines and airports is intriguing. There is no question Florida and the nation have an enormous backlog of such projects and not enough money to pay for them. Meanwhile, other nations such as China are heavily investing in better transportation systems. And this concept would offer a more objective method for picking projects than congressional earmarks.
The plan would complement, not replace, the current system. An independent panel would review proposals and determine which projects would be most cost-effective and produce the most benefits. It would distribute loans that would be repaid through user fees, tolls or other revenue generated by the project. This could create a more regional approach to transportation improvements. It is just the sort of public-private partnership and objective evaluation that should appeal to politicians who like to say they want to run government like a business.
But it likely won't see the light of day, at least before the election.
Republicans have been successful in mislabeling the federal stimulus as a failure. In fact, it has created or saved jobs in Florida and across the nation. But as Obama noted Friday, the economic hole is so deep that "for all the progress we've made, we're not there yet.'' So Republicans hope that doing nothing now will enable them to tap into voter frustration. And Democrats are so defensive that even the White House won't call its latest proposal another stimulus package.
"I have no problem with people saying the president is trying to stimulate growth and hiring,'' Obama finally responded to a question at his news conference Friday. "Isn't that what I should be doing?''
Yes, and Congress should be doing the same thing — even if it is campaign season.