IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY…. I sometimes feel as if Lewis Carroll is writing the script for political events in Washington. This, for example, is considered one of the major developments of the day.
The ambitious debt-reduction plan before President Obama’s bipartisan commission is likely to get support from a majority of the members on Friday but fall short of the votes needed to send it to Congress for a vote.
Yet in drawing greater-than-expected support, the proposed overhaul of taxes and spending has attracted interest among some in the White House and Congress as a blueprint for future action as the nation grapples with the fiscal crisis posed by high health care costs and an aging population.
The Simpson/Bowles experiment will fail today, and I’m glad. But aside from the relative merits (or lack thereof) of the commission’s proposal, it’s truly baffling as to why we’re even having this conversation.
So much of the political discussion of late has been about what we can do to lower the deficit and address the debt that some Americans may be fooled into thinking it’s a conversation worth having right now. It’s not. Joe Klein recently asked, “Why are we spending so much time and effort bloviating about long-term deficits and so little trying to untangle the immediate economic mess that we’re in?”
That need not be a rhetorical question.
As awful as this morning’s jobs report was, it should, in theory, have one important upside: policymakers who were content to ignore job creation and focus on the deficit just got a startling reminder that those priorities are backwards. The stimulus that rescued the economy is coming to an end, and as that happens, the job market is stalling badly.
What are policymakers prepared to do about it?
For reasons that really don’t make any sense, Americans just empowered Republicans with expanded numbers in Congress, including a new House majority. And what’s the GOP’s economic agenda? It’s chock full of creative ideas: take capital out of the economy, create more public-sector unemployment, eliminate effective jobs programs, scrap remaining stimulus investments, urge the Federal Reserve to stop focusing on lowering unemployment, and fight tooth and nail to protect a tax policy that’s been tried for nearly a decade without success.
That’s not spin or partisan messaging — that’s simply what congressional Republicans, inexplicably rewarded by voters, believe to be wise.
It’s maddening because, as the jobs crisis fails to get better, one might think policymakers would see developments and say, “Hmm, maybe we ought to do something.”
But they won’t because they can’t. Conceivably, a massive stimulus — focused on infrastructure, among other things — could come up in Congress, but nervous House Dems wouldn’t want to vote for it, and it’d never overcome a Republican filibuster in the Senate. Best of all, conservatives have done a masterful job at rigging the game — Americans have been convinced over the last 22 months that the most effective policies happen to be the worst. Taking steps to improve a struggling economy, ironically enough, has become wildly unpopular, making worthwhile ideas so far off the table, they’re not even brought up.
It’s reached the point at which Republicans proudly block extended jobless benefits, with an unemployment rate near 10%, because they assume they’ll face no political punishment whatsoever. And they’re right.
D.C. could really use a wholesale reevaluation of reality. It could start with Republicans making job creation their “top priority,” as opposed to “denying President Obama a second term in office.”
The status quo is untenable, and it’s doesn’t have to be this way. But the political will to act doesn’t exist, and the political establishment isn’t even asking the right questions anymore.