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The Financial Times Says: Obama Needs a New Policy Staff and a New Political Staff

That, at least, is how I read it.

The Financial Times:

It is time for an Obama reset: "Barack Obama, like the US economy whose fate is bound up with his own, is in a slump. Since the shameful debt-ceiling battle, events have landed one blow after another: the Standard & Poor’s downgrade, a run of bad economic figures, crashing markets and growing fears of a second recession. With the US longing for new direction and the president’s ratings badly on the slide, Mr Obama headed off on his summer holiday.

Complaints about that last point, of course, are as unfair as they are traditional. By any standards, especially those of his predecessor in the White House, Mr Obama works hard. But the symbolism was a pity. The vacation followed a puzzling campaign-style bus tour of the Midwest, in which Mr Obama stressed two themes: the need to move beyond partisan squabbling and the irresponsibility of the Republican party. Lately the White House message has, to put it charitably, lacked focus.

Mr Obama has promised to announce a detailed initiative on jobs when Congress returns from its own vacation. Unfortunately this may serve only to underline his limited capacity to influence domestic policy, since the plan will go nowhere without backing in Congress – and it is unlikely to get far while Republicans smelling blood control the House of Representatives.

The best the president can do is rally public support for specific new measures. He could have been doing that in the Midwest. He could be doing it this week. Why the delay? Lack of economics heft in the White House may be a factor: the members of a once-outstanding economics team have left and have not been replaced by experts of like calibre. The ability to frame policy and present it authoritatively is not what it should be. In broad terms, the needed elements are plain: further short-term stimulus combined with credible longer-term fiscal restraint. Cut the payroll tax, extend jobless benefits and subsidise new jobs; then curb entitlement spending by raising the retirement age. Neither party in Congress is willing to embrace both sides of that proposal. The only hope of changing this is for Mr Obama to reset his presidency. Be bold. Lead more forcefully. Since all else has failed, put a serious plan to the country and win the argument.

Success in this would be far from guaranteed and the political risk is obvious. But the alternative, tactically and substantively, is worse – and Mr Obama no longer has much to lose.

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