Robert B. Reich, a co-founder of The American Prospect, is a Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. His website can be found here and his blog can be found here.
The Senate Finance Committee is set to vote Tuesday on a health-care bill that just got a seal of approval from the Congressional Budget Office and is very likely to garner the vote of Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe -- a twofer that gives the bill preeminence over four other health-care bills that have emerged from House and Senate committees over these long months. Unlike those bills, though, the Senate Finance bill won't have a public insurance option to compete with private insurers. Nor does it allow Medicare to use its bargaining power to negotiate lower drug prices, or adequately subsidize millions of middle-class families who will be required to buy health insurance that will be hard for them to afford.
In his Saturday radio address, President Obama acknowledged the White House is exploring "additional options to promote job creation.” It's about time. This is the worst job market in 70 years -- including the longest duration of steep job losses.
Unemployment will almost certainly be in double-digits next year -- and may remain there for some time. And for every person who shows up as unemployed in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' household survey, you can bet there's another either too discouraged to look for work or working part time who'd rather have a full-time job or else taking home less pay than before (I'm in the last category, now that the University of California has instituted pay cuts). And there's yet another person who's more fearful that he or she will be next to lose a job.
So how can the Dow be flirting with 10,000 when consumers, who make up 70 percent of the economy, have had to cut way back on buying because they have no money? Jobs continue to disappear. One out of six Americans is either unemployed or underemployed. Homes can no longer function as piggy banks because they’re worth almost a third less than they were two years ago. And for the first time in more than a decade, Americans are now having to pay down their debts and start to save.
As he attempted to do with health-care reform last week, the president is trying to breathe new life into financial reform. He's using the anniversary of the death of Lehman Brothers and the near-death experience of the rest of the Street, culminating with a $600 billion taxpayer financed bailout, to summon the political will for change. Yet the prospects seem dubious. As with health-care reform, he has stood on the sidelines for months and allowed vested interests to frame the debate. Nor has he come up with a sufficiently bold or coherent set of reforms likely to change the way the Street does business, even if enacted.