How Obama must maintain credibility on the stimulus

It was a bit surreal to open the back page of The Washington Post this morning and read a plea for the stimulus package penned by “Barack Obama.” Just 15 days into his presidency there was the president of the United States, attempting to target not the American people but the Washington establishment, urging them to listen to his no-longer-new argument, just one more time.

Careful to open with his now-trademark disclaimer that he has “inherited” an economic crisis as bad as any since the Great Depression, Obama warned the crisis, if left unattended, could become irreversible.

In “The Action Americans Need, ” Obama calls criticisms of the bill, which have come from the Washington establishment, “misguided,” and says they “echo the failed policies that helped lead us into this crisis.” One of those criticisms, Obama writes, is “the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems.” This is verging on disingenuous, since the real reason the bill is sinking is because it won't create enough jobs. Democrats and moderate Republicans who are criticizing the bill are asking for state aid and job creation, and Obama knows it. His plan to craft a bill that would garner the votes of 80 senators is in the dustbin and he knows that too.

Somewhere in the White House top Obama aides are having frenzied discussions about losing control of the stimulus debate; it is why they penned the oped in the first place. And President Obama is having the same conversation with himself. How did the hope and promise of his inauguration give way to this embarrassing week, with former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) having to withdraw his nomination for secretary of Health and Human Services over failing to pay taxes on a free car and driver? With a half-million jobs disappearing each month and the stimulus debate focused only on sod, smoking and sexually transmitted diseases, what are Americans thinking of their new president's ability to lead? The circumstances are dire, for sure, but politically they are potentially fatal for Obama. He needs to regain momentum and credibility immediately.

Mr. President, it is time to scrap the stimulus bill. The whole bill. Salvage what is in there for long-term investment — only if it creates jobs. Weatherizing buildings, building bridges, projects that pay people. Tell the Congress they can write another bill another time but that for the sake of your entire presidency you must write this one now, with the help of both parties in both chambers.

Starting over won't require an apology like failed nominations did. But it would show the American public that you meant what you said two days ago, that the “new era of responsibility is not never making mistakes; it's owning up to them and trying to make sure you never repeat them.”

Back up your words from the Post today in which you audaciously proclaimed that “our destiny is now written for us but by us.” Don't let the Congress write the stimulus bill for you, and don't think writing op-eds alone will change minds — write a new bill yourself.