Congress Is Squandering the Opportunity of a Lifetime
It’s the first Friday of the month, which means a jobs report. And this one isn’t bad. The economy added a net 195,000 jobs in June, with upwards revisions of 70,000 in April and May. Which means that, so far this year, the economy has added more than 1 million jobs. To repeat a point, this is why the 2012 election was so critical for Democrats—a Mitt Romney win would have given Republicans a chance to claim credit for the current job growth, and use the political capital to push a highly-ideological agenda.
But back to the numbers. Federal government employment dropped by 5,000, a likely result of sequestration, and part of an overall decline of public employment—since 2010, the public sector has shed more than 600,000 jobs. The unemployment rate remained unchanged at 7.6 percent, with a slight drop in long-term unemployment. Still, more than four million people have been out of work for longer than six months.
In other words, despite the improving economy, we’re still stuck in a period of mass unemployment. And, thanks the GOP’s categorical opposition to spending–and stimulus in particular—there’s no chance of relief for the economy.
What’s frustrating—and, given the cost of long-term unemployment to individuals, families, and communities, cruel—is that conditions are perfect for another round of large-scale government spending. Not only are there millions of potential workers (to say nothing of an overall demand shortfall), but—as Suzy Khimm notes for MSNBC—interest rates are still at historic lows. But that won’t last: “Already,” she writes, “there are early warning signs that this era of absurdly cheap borrowing will eventually come to an end: The interest rate on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes—the benchmark for long-term borrowing rates—rose to 2.66% on Monday, the highest rate since August 2011.”
There’s still time to act on this unprecedented opportunity by investing in new infrastructure: We could take advantage of these low rates, borrow, and use the cash to rebuild our roads, bridges, airstrips, and pipelines. The subsequent economic growth—from more jobs and a faster recovery—would be more than enough to pay back whatever we owe when the economy is stronger.
But Republicans have not budged from their commitment to spending cuts, monetary tightening, and other austerity-minded policies. They warn that greater public debt will lead to inflation and low growth, ignoring the extent to which inflation has held steady at just under 2 percent for the last four years, and disregarding the disastrous results of austerity in Europe, which has plunged several countries, including the United Kingdom, into a second recession. Because of this, their House majority, and their ability to filibuster in the Senate, there’s no chance Congress will move on new stimulus, or anything else that could boost the economy.
The sad fact is that the GOP’s dysfunctions—its hyper-ideological approach to government, hostility to liberalism, and opposition to compromise—will keep the United States from capitalizing on one of the great opportunities of the last 20 years. Thanks to GOP-driven gridlock and Washington’s myopic focus on debt reduction, we have squandered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to rebuild this country at pennies on the dollar, and bounce back from a long decade of mismanagement and neglect.
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