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Pioneer Editorial: Obama sets tone, now up to Congress

President Barack Obama, in his speech Tuesday night to a joint session of Congress, laid out valid reasons of how the economy got to where it is today, and proposed bold steps to re-energize that economy and put America back to work.

The only problem is President Barack Obama.

He can only suggest, Congress must follow. And, despite both chambers of Congress and the White House being held in one party's hands, we know enough from past experience that it makes no difference who is in charge -- there will always be friction between the two chambers and between Congress and the White House.

The president summed up our sorry state of affairs as living "through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election." And we must look beyond the Bush years to even the Clinton years, when a process began that saw regulations "gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market." The president said we failed, when we had a surplus, to invest in our future.

He labeled as unfinished business delayed reforms in health care, education and cutting dependence on foreign oil. The stimulus package he signed into law last week is but one step to economic recovery, he admits, but it will hire more teachers, put people to work on public works jobs and cut taxes for 95 percent of wage-earners. It will even, he said, put 57 cops back on the streets of Minneapolis that would otherwise be out of work.

The future, he said, depends on immediately restoring credit for car loans, home loans and college tuition help. That means bolstering America's banks, which the American public remains leery. But President Obama promises transparency, that people will know where every buck is spent that is given to banks or used to shore up home loans. For long-term stability, the president proposes major investments in health care reform, education reform and renewable energy conversion. All laudable, but subject to Congress' prerogatives. It is a Congress bent on filling bills with earmarks -- the latest fund-all appropriations bill contains nearly $4 billion in earmarks even though the president has said he wants bills without them.

The president promises to halve the deficit to $500 billion in 2013, but it will take a concerted effort by Congress to return to Pay-go, the process where any new spending must be accompanied by cuts. Key is the president's wish to include in the budget the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- a hidden cost to taxpayers off budget for years.

Add to the pot the president's call for Social Security and Medicare reform, and that's just about a total do-over of government.

Try and pass that by Congress. We'll be eagerly waiting for that day.