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Obama’s latest economic proposals at least bring the focus back to jobs

The themes of President Obama’s campaign-style push to strengthen the economy are hardly new. But what’s needed are not new ideas, it’s the political will to agree on something.

Tens of millions of Americans struggling to regain a financial foothold can only watch in disgust as Washington refuses to act.

Obama started his outreach at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., last week. He said his highest priority for the next 1,276 days would be rebuilding a middle class that has been kicked around by globalization, technological change and the concentration of wealth at the highest levels.

As the president sees it, the priority should be spending for infrastructure, education, clean energy, science, research and other domestic initiatives that he has campaigned on – twice.

Tuesday in Chattanooga he proposed cutting corporate tax rates (a big Republican want), and instituting a minimum tax on foreign earnings that would fund a major jobs program.

Both speeches pushed proposals designed to grow the economy from the “middle out,” rather than the top down.

The president and his Republican opponents have spent too much time in political sparring rather than attempting to create more jobs. That important conversation has often been muffled by the cascade of political scandals and fallout from the budget sequester.

At least now the focus is back on the economy, although the reviews from Republicans follow a familiar pattern.

House Speaker John A. Boehner telegraphed the now-typical Republican response by criticizing the Galesburg speech even before it was delivered, saying it would not make a difference. He called it a “hollow shell. It’s an Easter egg with no candy in it.” The speaker then went on to list the ideas Republicans have advanced for improving the economy, centering on reducing regulations and cutting individual taxes, ideas that benefit the wealthiest Americans the most.

Of Obama’s offer to cut corporate taxes while leaving individual income taxes untouched, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said: “You can’t do that. That’ll never fly.”

In pushing his economic agenda, Obama isn’t saying anything Americans who consider, or once considered, themselves middle class don’t already know. They’re strapped, and watch as the rich get richer.

It’s too bad political gridlock prevents both Republicans and Democrats from reaching agreements on how to push forward an agenda to benefit all Americans. An improving economy will dramatically improve Democratic chances in 2014 congressional elections. Perhaps that accounts for Republican opposition to anything Obama proposes.

Beyond blocking efforts to revive the economy, Republicans are gearing up for two battles that threaten to end what recovery we have: A new fight over the nation’s debt ceiling and an effort by House Republicans to continue into the next fiscal year the mindless sequestration budget cuts.

Obama is striking the right chord with those who have yet to fully recover from the Great Recession and wonder whether getting back on their financial feet is even a real possibility. But, lamentably, any agreement to help them is likely to remain caught in Washington gridlock.