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Globe Editorial

Obama strikes a chord with feisty rhetoric, moderate plan

September 10, 2011

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PRESIDENT OBAMA this week offered a series of moderate, useful proposals to curb unemployment. They won’t fundamentally alter the nation’s economic course, but they’re a push in the right direction, and Congress should give them respectful consideration. The key, of course, is respect.

In the most-quoted part of his speech, Obama called on Congress to work with him to “stop the political circus.’’ It was part of his new, feistier tone, after his dour earnestness failed to capture the moment during the nearly summer-long debate over the debt ceiling. Surprisingly, and somewhat encouragingly, Republican leaders seemed to get the message. They indicated they would give the president’s proposals a fair hearing.

That commitment, plus the efforts of members of the bipartisan super committee and some senior senators to revive talk of a larger, long-term bargain to cut the deficit and reform entitlement programs, suggests that some of the fears of political stasis may have been premature.

Obama’s proposal to extend the 2 percent reduction in payroll taxes ought to be the easiest part of his jobs program to sell to the Republican-dominated House. That in itself would take $240 billion out of the treasury, with billions more going to trim the payroll taxes of the smallest businesses and reward employers with a tax holiday when they hire new workers. But most of the money would end up in the hands of consumers, helping to boost retail sales and stave off the dreaded “double-dip’’ recession. Obama promised to offset the cuts with further budget reductions, so that the long-term deficit would be unaffected.

A much harder sell will be required to push through Obama’s $140 billion plan to rebuild schools, roads, and bridges. It’s a worthwhile investment, at a time when many construction workers are out of jobs. And it’s work that will have to be done eventually. But some conservatives are loath to support broad federal outlays, even if the money lands in their districts. That’s a coherent position, and most Americans should welcome a high-minded debate on how best to stimulate the job market.

What Americans won’t welcome, though, is a return to the kind of apocalyptic rhetoric that portrays every dollar spent as an expression of fiscal insanity and ascribes the direst consequences to any cuts in programs. Hopefully, Congress got some of the hyperbole out of its system earlier in the summer, along with the extreme tactics that seek to block even modest proposals as if the fate of the nation were at stake.

The program Obama laid out is simple and workable, and can be offset by greater savings down the line. It’s a Band-Aid, not an elixir. Not a huge step, but a sensible one. Congress should regard it in that spirit.