A little advice for Obama at the half

November 18, 2010, 10:00 AM UTC

Like any good coach, the president needs to make some halftime adjustments. Here are a few that will work.

By Harold Ford Jr., contributor

Harold Ford Jr. is chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council and a visiting professor at the Wagner School of Public Service at New York University.

Legendary football coaches succeed in large part because of their ability to make halftime adjustments when their teams are losing. At the halftime of Obama’s first term, our country is down — and so is my party.

As America’s head coach, President Obama needs to make some big and smart adjustments to jump-start economic growth and business investment, stimulate job creation, and get wages up for ordinary Americans. The most important thing our leader can do is to push the reset button with business and not raise taxes on companies in a time of economic hardship. The U.S. economy and workers benefit from a strong, healthy relationship between government and business. America’s most powerful job-creation engine, the private sector, remains under intense pressure from the uncertainty surrounding tax rates and new regulations, among other things.

As a part of the reset, the President and Democrats should make permanent the current middle-class, capital gains, and dividend tax rates; extend the current rate on top earners for two years; cut the corporate tax rate by half; and suspend the payroll tax — for both employers and employees — for six months starting Jan. 1 for all businesses with 500 or fewer employees. And as a compromise on raising rates on the top earners after 2012, the affected income level should be raised to $1 million from $250,000 — and Republicans should accept a nine-month extension of unemployment benefits for those hardest hit by this downturn.

Second, the President should order his department heads and agency chiefs to declare a moratorium on new regulations until further notice. Whether true or not, business already believes that the Obama administration practices “If you can’t legislate, regulate.” The business community needs to be able to look over the hill to make investments that affect the workforce, shareholders, and profitability for the next 10 years, not the next 10 months.

The broadband ecosystem is an excellent example of why a moratorium is needed. The network providers have plans to invest hundreds of billions of dollars to build out the next generation of broadband. The ability to employ more design engineers, factory workers, programmers, and salespeople lies largely in having confidence that the FCC will not drastically alter the regulatory landscape.

At the same time, the business community should support the President’s cost-cutting health reform measures against Republican efforts to repeal reform altogether.

Third, the President shouldn’t be afraid to add assertive new and fresh voices to his core team. New strategies are needed for dealing with Congress and the business community. For example, the recent Asian trade mission, as smart and important as it was, works only if there is a renewed and sustained commitment by the White House to pass trade agreements and get an immigration bill passed that enables foreign workers with critical skills fast-tracked to stay in America so that they can innovate, employ people, and pay taxes here.

The President should look to business leaders for solutions to tomorrow’s problems. An important example is America’s oil and gas industry. The U.S. needs a strong oil and gas industry to secure our future, and our own companies are leading the world in the development of new technologies to safely recover America’s own resources. These companies are also investing in the fuels of tomorrow. A case in point is Exxon Mobil’s (XOM) work with Synthetic Genomics to develop fuels from algae.

Finally, so often in politics the campaign rhetoric can wrongly take on an “us vs. them” feel. Americans can ill afford to be divided in our effort to reinvent and reinvigorate our economy and country in the face of growing competition. Now isn’t the time for Washington or business to lower expectations for our nation’s future. It’s time to make the halftime adjustments that will turn “us vs. them” into “us and them.”

In fact, that may be the real message from the midterms.

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