Congress officially closed for a five-week recess at the end of July. Five weeks—that’s quite a contrast to the struggles that so many Americans are facing as the economic recovery remains slow. And with “austerity politics” gripping Washington and the nation, many Americans are just taking a pass on vacation as they wonder if extremists in Washington will ever end their outrageous antics that are starving our economy and blocking jobs legislation.
But the Congressional Great Escape hasn’t stopped a number of zealots from piping up with recycled schemes to keep the cutting going, trying to slash government programs as though the cuts themselves will magically get our economy on track.
Some in the Tea Party crowd have trotted out an old “Penny Plan” to impose 1 percent across-the-board cuts by essentially cutting one penny from every dollar the federal government spends for two years. And House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has generously offered to restore some of the cuts lost to the federal sequester, but only if President Obama and Democrats agree to cut Social Security and Medicare—effectively trading one bad idea for another. Nice. We reduce the already reckless cuts, put more federal programs and workers in harm’s way, and in return we hurt seniors and the poor. No thanks.
In Europe, austerity measures have prevented, not helped, economic recovery. The Eurozone economy has declined steadily for 18 months, and the jobless rate for the most recent quarter was 12 percent—up from 9.5 percent in 2009. That’s hardly the elixir we need here at home for what ails our economy and job market.
Here in the U.S., the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently reported just how damaging the sequester has been to our jobs picture. The CBO estimates that keeping the sequestration cuts in place through Fiscal 2014 will cost up to 1.6 million jobs.
And a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that more and more Americans say that sequester has “significantly affected” them, with lower wage earners reporting the highest impact. Some in Congress think that only the very rich matter in this debate. But these respondents are voters too and are waiting for their elected officials to deliver on job-creating initiatives.
But not everyone has gotten the memo. Just before they left town, obstructionists in Congress blocked the job-creating THUD housing and transportation spending bill—a measure that had once enjoyed bipartisan support. They are completely ignoring the fact that a great way to restore a strong economy is to repair our shockingly deteriorated infrastructure and transportation system. Doing so will put people to work and increase American competitiveness.
Over the August recess, I’ll be taking a look at several infrastructure-saving, economy-building, job-creating bills (everything from the Water Resources Development Act to the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act) and asking the question “where are they now?” Let’s hope Congress can answer that question in September.