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Posted by on Jul 18, 2011 in Economy, Politics | 9 comments

Why Did Congress Waste Six Months?

WASHINGTON — The House Republican strategy to link a normally routine increase in the nation’s debt limit with a crusade to slash spending has already had a high cost, threatening the nation’s credit rating and making the United States look dysfunctional and incompetent to the rest of the world.

But that’s not the most awful thing about it.

What’s even worse is this entirely artificial, politician-created crisis has kept government from doing what taxpayers expect it to do, which is to solve problems that citizens care about.

The most obvious problem is unemployment. The best way short-term to drive the deficit down is to spur growth and get Americans back to work. Has anyone noticed that Americans with jobs can provide for their families, put money into the economy — and, oh yes, pay taxes that increase revenues and thus cut the deficit?

There are some entirely obvious steps government can take. Ramping up public works spending is a twofer: It creates jobs upfront and provides the nation’s businesses and workers the ways and means to boost their own productivity down the road.

Wise infrastructure spending can save energy. And when public works investments are part of metropolitan plans for smarter growth, they can also ease congestion, reduce commuter times and give our citizens back valuable minutes or hours they waste in traffic. If you want a pro-family policy, this is it.

State and local budgets all across the country are a shambles. Teachers, police, firefighters, librarians and other public servants are being laid off. As The New York Times’ David Leonhardt pointed out recently, even as the private economy has been adding jobs, if too slowly, state and local governments have hemorrhaged about half a million jobs in two years.

President Obama knows this. “As we’ve seen that federal support for states diminish, you’ve seen the biggest job losses in the public sector,” he said in his July 11 news conference. “So my strong preference would be for us to figure out ways that we can continue to provide help across the board.”

So why not do it? “I’m operating within some political constraints here,” Obama explained, “because whatever I do has to go through the House of Representatives.”

Excuse me, Mr. President, but if you believe in this policy, why not propose it and fight for it? Leadership on jobs is your central job right now. Let the Republicans explain why they want more cops and teachers let go, or local taxes to rise.

There is also an extension of the payroll tax reduction instituted last year and of unemployment insurance. Why so little discussion of how balky Republicans have been on this Obama tax cut, or how resistant they have been for further help to the unemployed? They won’t raise taxes on the rich to balance the budget but are utterly bored by relief for the middle class or the jobless. Isn’t that instructive?

And while we have been parsing the Rube Goldberg complexities of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s procedural contortions to get us out of a battle we should never have gotten into, we haven’t been discussing how to reform the No Child Left Behind law.

It’s true that some good people in Congress are trying to figure out a way forward on education reform. That’s a far more important national conversation than whether tea party Republicans understand the elementary laws of economics. But you wouldn’t know it because those who care about the substance of governing never get into the media. You get a lot of attention — and are sometimes proclaimed a hero — if you say something really dumb about the debt ceiling.

Then there is the coming debate over a “balanced budget” amendment to the Constitution that would limit government spending to 18 percent of GDP and require a two-thirds vote to raise taxes. It’s an outrageous way for members of Congress to vote to slash Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, aid to education and a slew of other things, lock in low taxes on the rich — and never have to admit they’re doing it. It’s one of the most dishonest proposals ever to come before Congress, and I realize that’s a high standard.

Every member of Congress who got us into this debt-ceiling fight should be docked six months pay. They wasted our time on political posturing instead of solving problems. Better yet, the voters might ponder firing them next year. This could do wonders for national productivity.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne(at) (c) 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

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  • DLS

    Aren’t we still waiting for Obama’s and the Congressional Democrats’ budgets, and hasn’t it been (much) more than six months?

    Incidentally, poor Mr. Dionne apparently doesn’t realize that the public fired a lot of Democrats in 2010. (Maybe Dionne doesn’t want to understand that, because they were fired for being too far left.)

  • Allen

    Yeah, Bush got a massive tax cut for the rich during his term and it didn’t do squat for producing jobs. Fact is cutting taxes has never been proven to create jobs, ever. It really all depends on banks and leading institutions desire to make business loans, or not. I’m starting to think that the Republican policies of debt, mortgage failures, failed wars, and, banking debacles were left intentionally for the Democrats as a “poison pill” political attack at the expense of the American poor and working class. I hate to be cynical, but I think it’s all we have left after decades of Republican intransigence. The Republican party, along with Blue Dog Democrats, have always been in the service of the rich, be it corporate of otherwise.

    President Obama is right. There is a war right here in America between two philosophies and it looks like the Republicans simply don’t care if Americans starve or not. They just don’t care. When that fact is finally realized by the working class, you won’t see many conservative politicians around.

  • acolorado1

    DLS –

    It shouldn’t be our job to do your research – but then again why would you bother doing research that undermines a position crafted well before any reference to reality is attempted.

  • acolorado1

    In answer to the post – neither party is focused on the problems facing America. They are both focused on the next election (and have been since day one – I remember how much of the discussion of HCR by Dems centered on the impact it would have on future elections).

    Regardless of how pressing the challenges we’re facing are, those challenges only serve to frame the debate as far as our politicians are concerned. In their world, the only challenge they face is holding onto office.

  • “The best way short-term to drive the deficit down is to spur growth and get Americans back to work. Has anyone noticed that Americans with jobs can provide for their families, put money into the economy — and, oh yes, pay taxes that increase revenues and thus cut the deficit?”
    [Translation: The way to grow the private sector, is to grow the public sector.]
    “That’s a far more important national conversation than whether tea party Republicans understand the elementary laws of economics.”

    Another one of Dionne’s great examples of irony.

  • SteveinCH


    Allow me to direct you to:

    The President’s budget adds nearly $10 trillion to the debt over the next 10 years. But DLS was asking about the legislature.

    As to the House dem budget, it was neither submitted to the CBO for scoring, nor brought to a vote on the House floor or in the Ways & Means committee. The Senate Dems have not submitted a budget either though Kent Conrad claims he’ll be doing so any day now…as he has been claiming for a few weeks.

    @Allen, why do you post…if the other side is evil, what’s the point?

  • jimmygee

    They wasted 6 months because the Do-Little’s of the Do-Nothing GOTPee side of the House haven’t a clue if they’re punched or bored.

  • rudi

    To all the chirping Teabaggers, it’s the majority party in the House that crafts most bills. Aren’t the Republicans the majority in the House?

  • Allen

    Getting people back to work is no problem.

    Business needs people to run their businesses in their efforts to garner market share. There just isn’t anymore new market share because so many are unemployed. If there are market share opportunities, lending institutions will, for the sake of profit, lend money for business expansion and creation. That is, if the risks are not to great compared to buying that old low yielding but sure bet, those federal Government securities. In other words, Bonds, National Debt, Treasury Issues or any other of many descriptions. In fact they buy half again as many than they have money for at the discount rate! Can’t do that with markets.

    Problem is, the markets are producing product with foreign cheap labor putting Americans out of work. Fully ten percent, and, more of our work force is not buying product because they are unemployed and those foreign workers don’t buy in our markets. In my opinion we have unfair trade agreements in place. Not to mention the blatant flaunting of the trade agreement rules by some of our trade partners. I won’t mention any names, but the initials are; The People’s Republic of China!

    So in the view of the lending institutions; “why expand business here?” Profits are being made hand over fist without as many employees. What a deal!

    Business wants, as they always do, lower taxes, but they won’t hire many people if they get lower taxes, they’ll just reinvest it into what is already making them money, U.S. Bonds, and, Foreign investment.

    Just like during the great depression, you got to get money in the hands of the customer before there is any hope of business. To do that, you have to create income opportunities for customers, and, to do that, you either take exceptional risk or EXPECT government to invest in job production such as rebuilding national infrastructure. Exactly what President Obama is trying to do! Unfortunately the Republicans want that “tax” cut because it is easy cash in the bank for their Corporate handlers. However tax cuts really don’t yield much in the way of jobs. Maybe some token low paying jobs, but not much more than that.

    You should think about this rather than trust everything to a myriad of confusing, possibly inaccurate statistics. Greenspan did that and look how that turned out. Heck he was the “Statistic Guru” of all time before he was discredited and just look what he did to our country’s economy! Specifically the housing market/mortgage debacle!

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