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Obama has been tough, smart on economy

By Anthony Coley, Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Anthony Coley says Mitt Romney criticized Obama's economic policies
  • His charges are unfounded, he says; Obama's initiatives have headed off economic disaster
  • New financial regulations, health reform, loans for car industry were successes, he says
  • Coley: Hyperbole from Romney, likely presidential contender, distracts and misleads
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Editor's note: Anthony Coley is the former communications director and chief spokesman for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine. He works as a director at the Brunswick Group, a communications consulting firm. Follow him at www.twitter.com/AnthonyColey.

(CNN) -- The road to America's economic recovery is like the proverbial long summer trip with no air conditioning. Despite miles traveled and progress made, the question on everyone's mind is the same: are we there yet?

Americans' frustration and impatience with the slow economic recovery is broad and deep, and understandably so. Jobs are being created at a pace slower than anyone would like.

On Wednesday former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, a likely 2012 Presidential contender, gave voice to this on the Boston Globe's editorial page.

Wrote the former governor, "Almost every action the President has taken has deepened and lengthened the [economic] downturn....His policies are anti-investment, anti-jobs and anti-growth."

To hear Romney tell it, President Obama and Congressional Democrats have done nothing but squander the last year and half. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

The president and Democrats in Congress can point to many victories, including an $800 billion cash infusion of cash and tax cuts to jump start the economy and prevent a second Great Depression; tough legislation that eradicates Wall Street's riskiest financial practices and enacts comprehensive consumer protections; and a historic health reform law that lowers cost, enhances choice and extends quality, affordable health care to 32 million uninsured Americans.

Despite these enormous legislative accomplishments, the electorate is unsettled. Faced with stubbornly high unemployment, they are annoyed with both their elected officials and with corporate America, whose profits are actually on the rebound but have yet to resume hiring at pre-recession levels.

Still, Romney's notion that the Obama administration is anti-jobs and anti-growth is both wrong and misleading.

Lest we forget, when President Bush left office, the nation was losing over 700,000 jobs per month, according to the President's Council of Economic Advisors, was engaged in two unfunded wars and was saddled with a $1.3 trillion budget deficit. While job losses have slowed since then, economic rejuvenation is moving slowly. Last month, private sector employment grew by 71,000 positions.

The long slog back has been, and still is, tough for many. But Obama seems to have embraced one central and important theme: the role of government in a capitalistic economy is to foster an environment conducive for job creation.

To that end, he has rightly refused calls from many on the liberal left to nationalize the banks during the height of the economic meltdown. Similarly, his thoughtful decision to provide short-term loans to the struggling automobile industry saved the country from even further economic uncertainty. In an April report entitled "A Look Back at GM, Chrysler and the American Auto Industry," the administration estimates that more than one million jobs were saved by the president's decision, which Romney and many other Republicans did not support.

Additionally, while many in the private sector were less than thrilled with the president's preference to have a government-backed health insurance option, he compromised in a way that enhanced patient choice and preserved the health industry's private delivery system. His base was not pleased, but it was the right thing to do.

Equally impressive is the recent announcement, in a progress report on the president's National Export Initiative, that American exports grew more than 16 percent over the first four months of 2010, compared to the same period last year. At this rate, the president is well on his way to reach his goal of doubling our nation's exports over the next five years. This is especially important when 95 percent of the world's customers are beyond American borders.

Romney does at least make passing reference to the very worrisome issues of "looming deficits, national debt and unfunded entitlement liabilities," but he says nothing of the leadership President Obama displayed when appointing a bipartisan panel, the Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, to tackle these pressing problems.

Led by former Republican Senator Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, chief of staff in the Clinton White House, the 18-member panel will make tough recommendations to Congress on December 1.

Like most expected Republican presidential contenders, Romney also argues that Congress should preserve the Bush-era tax cuts, including for the wealthiest Americans (those individuals making more than $200,000 a year and households making more than $250,000 a year).

What Romney fails to mention is that extending Bush's tax cuts to these individuals and households would add $32 billion more to next year's deficit. The country can't afford to give massive tax cuts to the wealthy and make a noticeable dent in the deficit or debt.

Romney reminds me of the line from that old Loretta Lynn song, "Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die."

He wants it all.

Unfortunately for Mr. Romney that's just not possible. America can't afford it.

To be clear, George Bush's economy is not improving as fast as we all would like, but thanks to the tough, smart choices of the Obama administration, progress is being made.

Mitt Romney should join the effort, and leave behind the over-the-top hyperbole that does nothing but distract and mislead. Whether he runs for president or not, the country expects and deserves better.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Anthony Coley.