After trying to work with an obstructionist Republican House, President Obama has struck out on his own to make some economic fixes.
It’s about time he shed the deadweight. The summer spectacle of almost shutting the government down over the debt ceiling should have been enough even for a patient adult. But Congress’ repeated refusals to act on his jobs stimulus program made it clear it is putting partisanship ahead of the people.
So far, the president has unveiled plans to help businesses expand, families pay their mortgages, and students pay off their college loans, all without congressional action. Expect more.
“We’re going to look every single day to figure out what we can do without Congress,” he said.
These may be small steps toward fixing a weak economy, mostly involving the tweaking of existing federal programs. But they are significant steps coming from a Washington where too little progress has been made to ease the public’s economic pain.
To take bolder action, Obama will need Congress, a point he makes clear as he ramps up his reelection campaign. In the meantime, the steps he is taking now mean 7.5 million Americans struggling with student-loan debt will see their loads lightened.
Obama is speeding up a program that lets borrowers spend no more than 10 percent of their annual income on student-loan payments. The loans would be forgiven after 20 years of payments. Recent graduates can soon consolidate federal loans and see a half-percent cut in interest rates.
The average student borrower owes $24,000 upon graduation and only 56 percent of graduates found jobs last year. That means their aspirations to a middle-class lifestyle, starting families, and buying homes are on hold.
Too bad Obama’s actions won’t affect escalating college costs, which are the main reason spiraling student debt, which exceeds credit-card debt, is $1 trillion.
In this poor economy, students’ parents are less able to help them. Too many of them have suffered job losses or pay cuts and are struggling to pay their mortgage and stay in their homes.
Obama is offering some help for them, too, with a program that will make it easier to refinance mortgages on “underwater” homes, where the house’s value is well below its market price. The program won’t help the 4.2 million families with homes in foreclosure, but it’s a good step.
The public may settle for that, for now. And considering Congress’ approval rating is a historically low 9 percent, with no sign that it has bottomed out, its members may want to take some steps with the president, too.