Opinion: 'Baby-Step' Recovery Shows Government Can, Should do More

President Barack Obama makes remarks on the economy at a fire station in Arlington, Virginia.

First, the good news: the economy is improving. Last week's job report was a boost to the nation's morale. More people are getting jobs and keeping them. It's not just a sign of people dropping out of the workforce, but of people hiring again.

This is good news for regular Americans. For some, it means paychecks. For others, it means family members able to care for themselves again. For still others, it means promise: things can get better. That impact on the national psyche will improve everyone's outlook and everyone's opportunities.

And while it's good news for America, it's great news for President Obama. As the GOP candidates continue to flay each other and the GOP-controlled Congress sinks to deeper lows, the President is on stronger footing for November. All along, the state of the economy—more than the state of the Republican Party—has threatened to be the fiercest factor in November, 2012.

Now, the bad news. In his aptly titled column "Things Are Not O.K." in today's New York Times, Paul Krugman cites an Economic Policy Institute observation that 2012 began with fewer Americans employed than 11 years before. We're far from where we need to be.

Furthermore, many Americans are still suffering. For all the debates about what codes may be implied in Gingrich calling Obama "the Food Stamp President," the bigger point is that many Americans rely on assistance, and even that amount of support is meager. Romney allowed that the social safety net may have gaps. The ability for many Americans to adequately access healthy meals is a big one.

All of this means that while the news might be getting better, it's no excuse for inaction. In his Nevada victory speech, Romney said we shouldn't be content that things could be worse; we're a country that believes things should always get better. I happen to agree. But as Krugman points out, you already see financial actors suggesting we don't need to do more to make that better America, which Obama, Romney, Krugman, I and the majority of Americans want.

And that brings us to the other news, neither good nor bad: that this recovery is coming about without sweeping action from Washington.

In the fall, the President called for bold action...and Congress hardly responded. Too mired in the swamp of record low approval ratings, Congress couldn't find its way toward collaborative, decisive, comprehensive efforts—and earned even lower marks as a result.

Conservatives may argue this proves we don't need government action. After all, if the economy is improving without congressional support, let's keep DC out of the way and watch the growth continue.

However, government decisions are helping: from big ones like maintaining the Fed's low interest rates, to more targeted initiatives like the Startup America program, to the minimal steps Congress could take such as extending unemployment benefits and payroll tax cuts.

If these moves—more executive than legislative, more incremental than sweeping—can help a little, couldn't bigger steps help more?

Maybe my belief that bold action means bigger solutions is just ideological—maybe small steps allow you to measure and adjust more nimbly, and make progress more consistently. In which case, we should be trying many small steps (as Obama's American Jobs Act proposed), not stopping every step, as the Tea Party Caucus counters. Whatever's working, I'd say let's do more of it bigger, bolder and faster. But at the very least, let's not do it less and slower.

The most important thing is an economy that recovers and works for all. So far, we're recovering and working for more: baby steps, not heroic leaps, in the right direction.