Our congratulations, our good wishes, to President Barack Obama. Watching his momentum wash west Tuesday night, we were struck by how many Americans, despite the nation's economic turmoil, were willing to reinvest in him.
To Obama now falls the task of keeping his campaign promises. From 2008. Back then he pledged not only to bind together America's red and blue tribes. He also pledged to halve our federal deficit and to contain what he knows is our ruinous debt — for taxpayers who must repay it, and for a government that already has squandered its AAA credit rating.
Mr. President, enjoy your Wednesday. Then, back to work. We endorsed you this year, as we did in 2008. And now we implore you to recognize the mistakes of your first term, mistakes that nearly cost you a second term.
Listen, at last, to this nation's employers. They do have a notion of what it will take to put the nation back to work. They have genuine fears about the burden that government places on them, fears about the cost of your signature health care reform, fears about federal borrowing that now rises by $3 million every minute.
That debt is the prime mover in shoving the U.S. toward a menacing Jan. 1 fiscal cliff of big tax increases and an abrupt slash in federal spending. Obama and Congress bear sole responsibility for this threat of another recession. Our fear is that, rather than bulldozing the cliff with a deal on spending and revenues, obstinate Republicans and Democrats will do what they have done for years: delay and deny and point blame at the other side. If so, employers in turn may continue to do what they've been doing: wait for decisiveness in Washington to someday resolve their uncertainties. Decisiveness that would, at long last, goose a recovery lurching along at fitful 2 percent growth.
Americans are starved for economic growth, and for the millions of jobs that should follow. If the size of our national labor force hadn't contracted to its smallest level in three decades, the unemployment rate would be much higher than today's official 7.9 percent. As is, though, many employers are on strike — frightened not only of the cliff, but of the unknown tax and health care obligations that make hiring so risky.
And last Wednesday, Obama's Treasury Department whispered to an America distracted by campaigns and Halloween a warning likely to stir new fears among employers that this weak recovery will stall: The U.S. is likely to crash into its so-called debt ceiling — its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit — before Jan. 1. The last time Washington flirted with that limit, in mid-2011, the resulting impasse led to the government's first-ever credit downgrade. Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi succinctly described the risk as the fiscal cliff and debt limit threaten more than a collision of metaphors: "That makes the disaster more disastrous."
A president re-elected may be in no mood for advice. But he needs the centrist course correction that Bill Clinton steered when gridlock mired his agenda.
At the same time, we implore Republicans: Get over your Obama obsession.
He has run his last race. He has won re-election. He won in part because many moderate voters who weren't thrilled with him were nevertheless disgusted by Republicans' incessant obstructionism.
Republicans, Obama is your president for four more years. It is time to work with him on an agenda to revive this nation's economy and tame its debt. Work ... with ... him.
We cannot emerge from this election and fall back into the familiar patterns that have paralyzed Washington. Republicans and Democrats cannot simply reset their politics on Wednesday and calculate every decision they make on who might gain narrow advantage in the 2014 midterm elections. Two more years, four more years of failure to tame deficits and debt will leave America even more vulnerable to a European-style meltdown.
If America is to come out of this election with a new resolve to cooperate on solutions, it will start with the president.
When we endorsed Obama this year, we wrote that someday the children in whom we now invest our hope, and our love, will speak with today's adults about the America that we bequeathed to them. They will praise us for avoiding the financial ravages they watch other nations endure. Or they will condemn us for living ruinously beyond our means and forcing the enormous payback onto them — a criminal act no previous American generation has committed against those that came next.
That praise or condemnation will be this president's legacy.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun