Jobs Must Be "Job 1" or Obama Will Lose His

It's the economy first, everything else afterward

By Robert A. George
|  Tuesday, Mar 10, 2009  |  Updated 9:01 PM PDT
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President Obama's First 100 Days

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President Obama leads the White House's forum on health care reform. As the recession appears to get worse, is the president willing to hold off on overhauling health care until the economy stabilizes?

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Is President Obama trying to do too much?  Given that the biggest problem on his plate -- the economy -- doesn't seem to be getting better yet, it might appear that way. Friday's job numbers showed the economy shedding another 651,000 in February

On the Sunday talk shows, pundits started speculating that the $787 billion stimulus might not have been large enough -- and that further stimulus might be necessary.  If that's the case, where would such money be coming from?  

How about from the president's ambitious plans for health care, energy and education reform?   

Obama told the New York Times

“Look, I wish I had the luxury of just dealing with a modest recession or just dealing with health care or just dealing with energy or just dealing with Iraq or just dealing with Afghanistan. I don’t have that luxury, and I don’t think the American people do, either.”

But he does have the "luxury" of dealing with all those problems in their order of importance! Funny, during his address to Congress, the president said

My budget does not attempt to solve every problem or address every issue. It reflects the stark reality of what we've inherited -- a trillion dollar deficit, a financial crisis and a costly recession.

Given these realities, everyone in this chamber -- Democrats and Republicans -- will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars. And that includes me.

But what of his stated ambitious agenda is being sacrificed? Doesn't look like much:  He assembled all the congressional heavy-hitters last week to open up early discussions on health care reform. 

In sticking with campaign agenda -- regardless of changed circumstances -- Obama risks making similar mistakes as his predecessor did.  Even despite conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan, George W. Bush refused to get off an ideological stance on taxes.  Proposing a dedicated tax increase to help pay for the wars would have been controversial -- especially for his supporters on the right.  But it would have been completely defensible and arguably more fiscally responsible.  For that matter, even going into Iraq itself was a "choice" that could have been made at any time.  

He has no choice when it comes to dealing with economic catastrophe. He does have choice with respect to his other "reforms." Yes, Obama ran on "change" -- which implicitly means more spending on various domestic priorities.  But that was before the worst recession since the Great Depression.  If a further stimulus is necessary, is the president willing to use the $634 billion health-reform "reserve fund" called for in his budget -- or seek money from elsewhere ? 

Or does he really think that allocating even more deficit spending from outside of the budget process is truly the way to go? 

Sixteen years later, the mantra of the Clinton campaign still has salience:"It's the economy, stupid."

It's admirable that the president wants to keep his promises with all due swiftness. But he has years to do so. 

But jobs must be "Job 1." 

If it's not, the president himself might be out of a job in three years.  

Robert A. George is a New York writer.  He blogs at Ragged Thots.  

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