Presidents get too much blame when the economy is bad, and too much credit when it is good, a point this page has made often, in regard to Republican and Democratic presidents alike. That's not an excuse to do nothing, which is what we're now seeing from both parties.

Presidents get too much blame when the economy is bad, and too much credit when it is good, a point this page has made often, in regard to Republican and Democratic presidents alike. That's not an excuse to do nothing, which is what we're now seeing from both parties.


Any president's options for changing the economy are limited, and President Barack Obama's even more so. He did what he could early, using the TARP program to stabilize the financial and auto industries, a large stimulus program to stop a historic economic slide and tax cuts to encourage investment and consumption. The Fed has kept interest rates near zero for years, without triggering the inflation many warned was coming, but lacks the tools needed to goose an economy that still isn't producing jobs.


With federal deficits at record levels, Obama has run out of money to provide more economic stimulus. With Republicans in Congress controlling the agenda, he's run out of political support he'd need to make significant economic moves. What may be worse, he seems to have run out of ideas.


Unfortunately, the Republicans don't seem to have any promising ideas either. Republicans control the House, but we've seen no jobs program, no proposal to stop the slide of the real estate market, nothing that holds the promise of a stronger economy in the short-term.


Instead, the Republicans have focused on budget austerity, demanding huge cuts in federal spending in order to shrink the deficit and begin to address the nation's historic debt level.


It is certainly true that, in the long run, a healthy economy requires less debt and a federal budget where revenues and expenditures are closer to balance. It's also true that a healthy body requires regular exercise and a balanced diet.


But if a patient is battling pneumonia, you don't give him a plate of vegetables and send him to the gym. And when the economy is teetering on the edge of recession, government shouldn't be cutting spending and laying off thousands of workers.


Obama has been justly criticized for his recent silence on reforming entitlements and reducing the budget. His reluctance to engage these issues makes sense only if he is trying not to upset the ongoing negotiations with Congressional leaders over deficit reduction. With the deadline for raising the federal debt ceiling getting closer by the day, making a deal must be his top priority.


But that strategy brings no comfort to workers who have lost jobs or fear they may soon, or to families on the brink of foreclosure. They - and the rest of us - need more from our leaders than political paralysis and pre-election gamesmanship. We need to see ideas to get the economy moving again, from both parties. More than that, we need to see the political will to put some of those ideas in action.


Economic worries have large numbers of Americans telling pollsters the country is on the wrong track. The political class argues about which party stands to benefit from this sour mood, but they are missing the point, as usual. We blame both parties for being unwilling or unable to do anything while the economy founders.


The MetroWest Daily News