If $900 billion in fiscal stimulus did not deliver us from high unemployment, perhaps another $450 billion will do the trick: That was the theory underlying President Obama’s speech. The same as before, but less impressive — which, come to think of it, isn’t a bad summary of this stage of his presidency.
Obama’s familiar hectoring tone, condescension, and pose of post-partisanship should not be allowed to obscure the fact that every so often he mentioned a good idea. A simultaneous reduction in corporate tax rates and corporate tax breaks was one. Extending the payroll-tax cut enacted last year was another. Enacting trade agreements would count as a third if the main obstacle to their enactment were not Obama himself and his congressional allies.
If President Obama were not so inflexibly liberal, there is much more he could have done to promote job growth. He claimed, for example, that his existing regulatory policy already balances economic goals with safety and environmental protection. On this point he was quite strident, pretending for example that Republicans had proposed to eliminate most regulations on the books. The fact is that the number of regulations, their cost, and the size of the work force at regulatory agencies have all increased substantially under this president, and that regulatory activism shows no signs of abating. A moratorium on new regulation until unemployment returns to a tolerable level would have cost the president no permanent ideological ground, but he was unwilling to propose it.
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