Republicans have long argued that the deep federal budget cuts they have dreamed of would somehow jumpstart the ailing U.S. economy and spur new job creation. GOP lawmakers, in fact, insisted on enacting the largest single-year budget cut in history as a precondition to avoiding a government shutdown earlier this year. If the Republican theory was correct, that huge cut, and conservative promises of more of the same, would right now be encouraging huge job growth. That isn’t happening.
The Labor Department reported Friday that employers added just 54, 000 jobs in May, and the nation’s unemployment rate actually shot up to 9.1 percent. The economy is so close to stalling out that economists have begun to worry once more about a double-dip recession. How much more bad news will it take to convince folks that the twin conservative economic theories of federal budget cuts and tax cuts for the rich just don’t work?
Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank, says:
Today’s employment report should be a wake-up call to policymakers who continue to say the budget deficit is a more immediate threat to the economy than the jobs deficit. Nearly two years after the economy technically turned the corner from recession to recovery, job growth was disappointing in May and unemployment remained high. At the same time, interest rates are very low, indicating that financial markets are far more concerned in the near term about a sluggish recovery than about deficits, debt, or inflation.
Republicans, allegedly, are supposed to be about looking out for business interests. But, as Stone says, business clearly is more interested in getting the economy moving than it is in tackling the deficit. In fact, conservatives will only make a bad economy worse, Stone says, by agreeing to increase the federal debt limit only after further budget cuts.
“Lawmakers must raise the debt ceiling so that the United States does not default on its obligations arising from tax and spending legislation that was previously enacted,” Stone says. “If implemented now, those budget cuts would drain purchasing power from the economy at a time when the recovery is already losing momentum and forecasters expect another quarter of sluggish growth.” So why aren’t politicians of either party truly listening?
Half of all Americans continue to rate the economy and jobs as the top national priority, more than twice the number who claim the deficit and government spending as their No. 1 concern, yet neither party is really taking on this issue.
Robert Reich, the prominent economist who was labor secretary during the Clinton administration blames Democrats as much as Republicans:
Republicans don’t want to do anything about jobs and wages. They’re so intent on unseating Obama they’d like the economy to remain in the dumps through Election Day. They also see the lousy economy as an opportunity to sell Americans their big lie that government spending is the culprit — and jobs will return if spending is cut and government shrinks.
Democrats, meanwhile, don’t want to admit the recovery has stalled. They worry such talk will further undermine consumer confidence or spook the bond market. They don’t want to head into the election year sounding downbeat. And they don’t think they have the votes for anything that will have much effect before Election Day anyway.
An even bigger reason, Reich says, is that the unemployed and economically struggling in this country simply are not well-connected politically.
The unemployed are politically invisible. They don’t make major campaign donations. They don’t lobby Congress. There’s no National Association of Unemployed People.
Their ranks are filled with women who had been public employees, single mothers, minorities, young people trying to enter the labor force, and middle-aged men who have been out of work for longer than six months. You couldn’t find a collection of people with less political clout.
Reich is right, of course. And yet, we’re coming toward a presidential election year in which we in the middle class will have as much influence as we will ever have. It’s past time to say, once and for all, that budget-and-tax-cut economics don’t work, and never will. And it’s time for Democrats, from President Obama on down, to realize this fact and focus, instead, on solutions that will.