A conflict of interests

The Baltimore Sun

Some of the most powerful Democrats in Congress appear to have forgotten that voters chose a new president last November by the largest margin in a generation. Now, President Obama is facing the most serious economic crisis in recent history and the leaders of key congressional committees are rejecting critical elements of his tax and spending plan out of hand, without discussion or debate.

Many politicians see this as Washington business as usual. But Mr. Obama was elected by voters seeking real change and change requires compromise. The president needs strong support as he seeks to limit tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, cut subsidies for high income farmers and implement a cap and trade pollution tax system in pursuit of his goals. Mr. Obama faces solid opposition from Senate Republicans capable of blocking action on legislation they don't favor. Without significant help from congressional Democrats, his budget strategy is likely to be shredded.

It's not that the new president isn't willing to compromise. Mr. Obama has agreed not to challenge more than 9,000 unscrutinized projects- earmarks added by members of Congress to a $410 billion spending bill- preferring to focus on recovering from a deep and dangerous recession. The president also deferred to Congress in drafting the details of the $787 billion economic stimulus package.

But now Mr. Obama must stand up to members of his party and insist that they put aside their parochial, special interests and work with him to achieve a budget shaped to rescue the economy, fight global warming, reform the health care system and make the tax code more fair.

The president must be explicit in spelling out the social and economic goals underlying his budget proposals and be willing to use his strong public support and the power of his office to achieve them.

If Mr. Obama fails to prevail in the coming struggle between private favors and larger public interests, generations of Americans will likely pay a high price as it becomes more difficult to pay down a massive and multiplying national debt and "yes we can" will become just another campaign slogan.

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