Tough time for Dems, too

As America stares depression in the face, and braces for years of hardship, it is high time to admit that Republicans are not the problem.

Certainly the broken GOP is its own problem, engaging in cannibalistic rhetoric and behavior, and refusing — as the party’s support dwindles by the day — to embrace policies that will attract new voters. But our leaders in Congress and in the White House don’t have the luxury of wasting any more time talking about Republican defiance. Our country’s problems are too severe and require too urgent a response. Republicans may continue to say no to compromise with Democrats or even to remaining viable as a party, but let’s move on.

The popular president, now having crossed the 50-day mark in office, clearly inherited an economic calamity. But as we witness his juggling act, there is growing unease about just what he has thrown up in the air. Unity at the White House healthcare summit was nice, expanding national service is noble, opening more stem cell lines potentially saves millions of lives, and pushing for merit pay in public school is a politically courageous move for Obama. But none of this will stop us from reaching double-digit unemployment by June.

Seven weeks into Obama’s watch, the markets have plunged another 20 percent, and the president has failed to articulate a plan to address the fundamental problem: stabilizing the banking system. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner produced panic, not reassurance, when he announced his vague plan to “stress-test” banks. He goes about this rather mysterious process alone, without other confirmed employees to help him, and the situation remains nothing short of alarming.

Meanwhile, Obama, who as a candidate criticized an “orgy of spending and enormous deficits,” is hosting an orgy of his own with a projected $1.75 trillion deficit, a number so large it gives Democrats stomach pains. Contrary to his claims, the deficit cannot be cut if his plans pass. Obama’s budget is based on hopeful assumptions that don’t pass the straight-face test. The deficit reduction forecasts rely upon exuberant growth we can only dream about in this decimated economy. Obama’s budget projects a 4 percent rate of growth in 2011 and an even more unrealistic 4.6 percent in 2012, expansion we haven’t had since the Clinton years, when nearly 23 million jobs were created and unemployment and inflation reached lows not seen in three decades.

Obama’s bold agenda, the one that doesn’t fix banks, already faces stiff resistance from his own party. Card-check, a cap-and-trade mandate for emissions, slashing farm subsidies, “means testing” the prescription drug benefit under Medicare, stripping mortgage interest and charitable giving deductions for the wealthy while raising their taxes — Democrats are putting their feet down.

Even as Obama tried keeping the message on healthcare, energy and education reform these last two weeks, it was all overshadowed by pork. The Democrats in Congress made news by pressuring President Obama to keep 8,000 earmarks in the 2009 appropriations bill, and Obama made news by breaking a campaign pledge and relenting. Republicans managed to block the bill and squeeze another five days out of the story, but Obama will sign it after all. Then House Democrats await a lecture from the president about earmarks in the form of future guidelines.

Yes, the Republican Party is in pathetic shape. Obama’s job approval numbers have slipped, but the GOP’s  have declined more precipitously.

We may end up watching Republicans join hands and jump off a cliff. But the Democrats have some problems of their own. It is President Obama who is in charge, along with the Democratic majorities elected to the House and Senate. They may have inherited this mess, but whining about Republicans won’t begin to fix it.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.