A matter of priorities

Washington may generally look and act like a slow, lumbering beast, but as we’ve seen on occasion, institutions can move pretty quickly when they want to. Getting policymakers motivated appears to be the tricky part.

Getting the relevant players motivated to tackle debt reduction seems to be pretty easy. As we saw during the debt-ceiling hostage negotiations, Washington’s most powerful leaders were willing to invest countless hours in private talks, behind-the-scenes chats, and formal and informal negotiations. Once an agreement was reached, the House and Senate acted with great speed to pass their plans, and continue to move expeditiously on a debt-reduction “super committee.”

Imagine if policymakers took job creation this seriously.

With national unemployment hovering above 9 percent, a leading House Democrat is pushing to establish a “supercommittee” for creating jobs.

Rep. John Larson (Conn.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus, wants to amend the recently passed debt-limit package to establish a joint select committee on job creation to operate alongside the already mandated Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to House members earlier in the week, Larson argued that the nation’s jobs crisis is only exacerbating its long-term fiscal problems and therefore demands Congress’s immediate attention.

How would Larson’s panel differ from the debt-reduction Murray/Hensarling committee? Structurally, it wouldn’t — the committee would have 12 members, with each of the four main leaders appointing three lawmakers. The difference, of course, would be the goal: Larson wants the focus on job creation, not debt reduction.

“This would allow the Congress to simultaneously consider both our near-term (high unemployment) and our long-term (growing debt) challenges later this year,” Larson wrote in his letter to House colleagues. “Just like the Deficit Committee, all options would be on the table. We owe the American people nothing less.”

Does this plan have merit? Of course. Will it gain traction? Almost certainly not. The feedback loop has simply become too intense and all-consuming, and Republicans are too convinced that the jobs crisis should be ignored.

But whether Larson’s idea goes anywhere or not, I’m glad he’s pushing it and I’m hoping his Democratic colleagues endorse it. The larger discussion is badly in need of a detour, and the more officials push for a change in priorities, the better.