New numbers released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the economy added a mere 80,000 jobs in June. That’s down from an average of 150,000 jobs a month for the first part of the year, and far too little to keep up with population growth.
Republican intransigence on economic policy has been a key contributor to the sluggish recovery. As early as 2009, Republican fear-mongering over spending and their readiness to filibuster in the Senate helped convince the White House economic team that an $800 billion stimulus was the most they could hope to get through Congress. Reporting has since revealed that the team thought the country actually needed a stimulus on the order of $1.2 to $1.8 trillion. The economy’s path over the next three years proved them right. Here are the top five ways the Republicans have sabotaged the economic recovery since:
1. Filibustering the American Jobs Act. Last October, Senate Republicans killed a jobs bill proposed by President Obama that would have pumped $447 billion into the economy. Multiple economic analysts predicted the bill would add around two million jobs and hailed it as defense against a double-dip recession. The Congressional Budget Office also scored it as a net deficit reducer over ten years, and the American public supported the bill.
2. Stonewalling monetary stimulus. The Federal Reserve can do enormous good for a depressed economy through more aggressive monetary stimulus, and by tolerating a temporarily higher level of inflation. But with everything from Ron Paul’s anti-inflationary crusade to Rick Perry threatening to lynch Chairman Ben Bernanke, Republicans have browbeaten the Fed into not going down this path. Most damagingly, the GOP repeatedly held up President Obama’s nominations to the Federal Reserve Board during the critical months of the recession, leaving the board without the institutional clout it needed to help the economy.
3. Threatening a debt default. Even though the country didn’t actually hit its debt ceiling last summer, the Republican threat to default on the United States’ outstanding obligations was sufficient to spook financial markets and do real damage to the economy.
4. Cutting discretionary spending in the debt ceiling deal. The deal the GOP extracted as the price for avoiding default imposed around $900 billion in cuts over ten years. It included $30.5 billion in discretionary cuts in 2012 alone, costing the country 0.3 percent in economic growth and 323,000 jobs, according to estimates from the Economic Policy Institute. Starting in 2013, the deal will trigger another $1.2 trillion in cuts over ten years.
5. Cutting discretionary spending in the budget deal. While not as cataclysmic as the debt ceiling brinksmanship, Republicans also threatened a shutdown of the government in early 2011 if cuts were not made to that year’s budget. The deal they struck with the White House cut $38 billion from food stamps, health, education, law enforcement, and low-income programs among others, while sparing defense almost entirely.
There have also been a few near-misses, in which the GOP almost prevented help from coming to the economy. The Republicans in the House delayed a transportation bill that saved as many as 1.9 million jobs. House Committees run by the GOP have passed proposals aimed at cutting billions from food stamps, and the party has repeatedly threatened to kill extensions of unemployment insurance and cuts to the payroll tax.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, those policies — the payroll tax cut, food stamps, unemployment insurance, and discretionary spending for low-income Americans — have the highest multipliers, meaning more job boosting potential per dollar.
By: Jeff Spross, Think Progress, July 6, 2012
The economy had already lost 4.5 million jobs before President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, with job losses that month alone surging to 818,000. Economic contraction had also accelerated, reaching a staggering 8.9 percent annualized decline in the fourth quarter of 2008—the worst in 60 years. From this downward spiral, Obama’s economic policies proved instrumental in generating and sustaining a recovery.
In February 2009, Obama enacted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the pace of economic contraction and job loss immediately decelerated. As the stimulus ramped up, sustained economic growth took hold in mid-2009, and job growth resumed early in 2010—with 3.5 million jobs added since February 2010. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that without the Recovery Act, unemployment would have averaged roughly 10.7 percent in 2010, instead of 9.6 percent.
The Recovery Act was intended to jump-start the economy and avert a depression, not to restore full employment. The $831 billion price tag, spread over more than four years, was dwarfed by the staggering loss in economic activity caused by the bursting of the $7 trillion housing bubble. After economic growth resumed, mass unemployment and underemployment compelled more fiscal support. However, passing additional economic support through Congress proved a Herculean task.
In December 2010, the administration negotiated a payroll tax cut, continuation of emergency unemployment benefits, and targeted tax credits to sustain the delicate recovery as the stimulus began winding down. Without this boost, the economy would actually have slipped back into contraction in the first quarter of 2011.
It should be noted that the Federal Reserve also deserves credit for extraordinary measures taken to resuscitate the financial sector and facilitate recovery. But the Fed had already maxed out its key policy lever, the federal funds rate, when Obama entered office; monetary policy could not have single-handedly revived the economy.
While the economy has improved greatly under Obama’s stewardship, creating jobs for the millions of unemployed Americans who want to work remains imperative. In September 2011, Obama proposed the American Jobs Act, which would boost employment by roughly another 2 million jobs, according to numerous outside economists, including Mark Zandi.
Unfortunately, Obama’s substantive jobs agenda continues to be undermined by congressional partisanship. While more must be done to restore full employment, it is unquestionable that President Obama’s economic policies have been instrumental in ending the worst downturn since the Great Depression.
By: Andrew Fieldhouse, Economic Policy Institute, Published in U. S. News and World Report, March 13, 2012
We have a tendency to elect presidents who seem like the antitheses of their immediate predecessors — randy young Kennedy the un-Eisenhower, earnest truth-telling Carter the un-Nixon, charismatic Reagan the un-Carter, randy young Clinton the un-H.W. Bush, cool and cerebral Obama the un-W.
So Rick Perry fits right into that winning contrapuntal pattern. He’s the very opposite of careful and sober and understated, in his first days as an official candidate suggesting President Obama maybe doesn’t love America (“Go ask him”) and that loose monetary policy is “treasonous.” (“Look, I’m just passionate about the issue,” he explained later about his anti-Federal Reserve outburst, before switching midsentence to first-person plural, “and we stand by what we said.”)
Yet the most troubling thing about Perry (and Michele Bachmann and so many more), what’s new and strange and epidemic in mainstream politics, is the degree to which people inhabit their own Manichaean make-believe worlds. They totally believe their vivid fictions.
Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. Perry is even entitled to his opinion that states such as Texas might want to secede, as he threatened at a Tea Party rally two years ago. But he’s not entitled to his own facts. “When we came into the nation in 1845,” he’d earlier told some bloggers visiting his office, “we were a republic. We were a stand-alone nation. And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.” That special opt-out provision is entirely fiction, a Texas myth the governor of Texas apparently thinks is real.
Perry also believes in the fiction of intelligent design. Campaigning in New Hampshire, he said that in Texas public schools, “we teach both creationism and evolution” — an assertion that’s a fiction itself; last month the Texas Board of Education unanimously rejected creationist biology textbooks. In Iowa, Perry served up a fresh viral-Internet fiction as his what-the-hell example of federal over-regulation — a new rule forcing farmers to get special drivers’ licenses to drive tractors. In fact, the Obama administration had just taken the very opposite position, ruling that states should maintain “common sense exemptions” for tractor-driving farmers.
Sincere, passionate, hysterical belief that the country is full of (make-believe) anti-American enemies and (fictional) foreign horrors is the besetting national disease. And I’ve diagnosed the systemic problem: the American body politic suffers from autoimmune disorders.
It’s a metaphor, but it’s not a joke. I’ve read a lot about autoimmune diseases — the literal, medical kinds, also disconcertingly on the rise — because several members of my family have them. At some point, our bodies’ own immune systems went nuts, mistaking healthy pieces of our anatomies — a pancreas, a thyroid, a joint — for foreign tissue, dangerous enemies within, and proceeded to attack and try to destroy them. It’s as close to tragedy as biology gets.
Which is pretty much exactly what’s been happening the last decade in our politics. The Truthers decided the U.S. government was behind 9/11. Others decided our black president is definitely foreign-born and Muslim. Tea Party Republicans are convinced his administration is crypto-socialist and/or proto-fascist. The anti-Shariah people are terrified of the nonexistent threat of Islamic law infecting American jurisprudence. It’s now considered reasonable to regard organs and limbs of the federal government — the E.P.A., the education department, the Federal Reserve — as tumors that must be removed. Taxation itself is now considered a parasitic pathogen rather than a crucial part of our social organism.
Many autoimmune diseases of the literal kind, such as Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, are apparently triggered by stress. For the sociopolitical autoimmune epidemic, there are plenty of plausibly precipitating mega-stresses: the 9/11 attacks and the resulting wars, a decade of stagnant incomes, chronic job insecurity, hyper-connected digitalism, real estate wipeout, teetering financial system, take your pick.
Exposure to chemicals or infections also play a role in triggering autoimmune disorders. My pathogenic scheme’s got that, too: the new streams of iffy infopinion, via talk radio and cable news and the Web, seeping into our political bloodstream 24/7.
Of course, metaphors are just … metaphors. Maybe in 2031 we’ll look back and smile and shake our heads and see the pathology of this haywire age as more psychological than physiological, a temporary national nervous breakdown, like the late 1960s. But what if our current, self-destructive political dysfunction really is exactly like an autoimmune disorder? They are generally permanent, chronic conditions. Only some are debilitating, and most are treatable, but they are all incurable.
By: Kurt Anderson, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 19, 2011
“If This guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas.”
Thus spoke Republican Gov. Rick Perry on Monday, referring to Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. You might chalk the remark up to a weak attempt at humor —if you watch the video, you’ll hear a few nervous laughs from the small crowd — but then Mr. Perry went on in an even less appropriate vein.
“Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous, or treasonous, in my opinion,” Mr. Perry said.
“To play politics”? Mr. Bernanke was appointed chairman of the Fed by a Republican president, George W. Bush. He was reappointed by a Democratic president, Barack Obama, in an acknowledgment of how indispensable he had become in a time of crisis. In fall 2008, when global finances threatened to spin out of control, Mr. Bernanke responded with a steeliness that may have saved the country from disaster far worse than the severe downturn it has experienced.
That’s our view; it’s the view, we’d wager, of most economists. Mr. Bernanke’s actions had the support of both Mr. Bush and then-candidate Obama, of Republican Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and future Democratic Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. And in the years since, Mr. Bernanke and his team have done as much as the Fed should do to get the economy moving again.
Now, if Mr. Perry disagrees, that’s fine. The actions of the Fed leading up to, during and after the crisis will be studied and critiqued for decades. Maybe Mr. Perry could have done better; we’ll be interested to hear about his economic program in the days to come.
But there has never been a whisper, let alone any evidence, that Mr. Bernanke’s actions have been motivated by anything but patriotism and determination to see the U.S. economy regain its footing. There was never a whisper, let alone any evidence, that the Republican-appointed Fed chairman sought to help Republican candidate John McCain in 2008, and there is no reason to believe he is playing politics now.
If Mr. Perry has evidence to the contrary, he should present it. If not, he should apologize.
But questioning his opponents’ good faith seems to be part of Mr. Perry’s early playbook. He already has disparaged Mr. Obama for not serving in the military, something that Mr. McCain — with far greater claim on the nation’s gratitude for his military service than Mr. Perry has — never stooped to. And when asked whether Mr. Obama loves his country, Mr. Perry responded, “I dunno, you need to ask him. . . . You’re a good reporter, go ask him.”
When we asked the campaign about these remarks, a spokesman e-mailed, “The Governor never said the President does not love his country.” As to his remarks concerning Mr. Bernanke, “The Governor was expressing his frustration with the current economic situation and the out of control spending that persists in Washington.” But frustration does not excuse accusing people of treason if you don’t like their policies.
In the days after the Jan. 8 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 18 others just outside Tucson, there was widespread revulsion at the nastiness of much political rhetoric and widespread commitment to argue about issues without questioning opponents’ motivations or character. Mr. Perry’s presidential campaign, not yet a week old, suggests he didn’t get the message. We hope he begins to make his case in a way that will reflect better on his own character.
By: Editorial Board Opinion, The Washington Post, August 16, 2011
Marjorie Cohn, immediate past president of the National Lawyers Guild, has a post up at Op-Ed News, “Lost in the Debt Ceiling Debate: The Legal Duty to Create Jobs” addressing the federal government’s failure to comply with existing job-creation legislation.
Cohn focuses primarily on The Employment Act of 1946 and the Humphrey-Hawkins Act of 1978, noting also mandates for job-creation in 1977 reforms requiring the Federal Reserve to leverage monetary policy to promote maximum employment. She ads that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets a global standard of employment as an important right, which, not incidentally, some major industrialized nations have actually tried to honor.
Cohn’s review of the two jobs acts provides a timely reminder of the moral imperative that faces every great democracy, the responsibility to take action to help insure that every family has at least one breadwinner who earns a living wage:
The first full employment law in the United States was passed in 1946. It required the country to make its goal one of full employment…With the Keynesian consensus that government spending was necessary to stimulate the economy and the depression still fresh in the nation’s mind, this legislation contained a firm statement that full employment was the policy of the country.As originally written, the bill required the federal government do everything in its authority to achieve full employment, which was established as a right guaranteed to the American people. Pushback by conservative business interests, however, watered down the bill. While it created the Council of Economic Advisers to the President and the Joint Economic Committee as a Congressional standing committee to advise the government on economic policy, the guarantee of full employment was removed from the bill.
In the aftermath of the rise in unemployment which followed the “oil crisis” of 1975, Congress addressed the weaknesses of the 1946 act through the passage of the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act of 1978. The purpose of this bill as described in its title is:
“An Act to translate into practical reality the right of all Americans who are able, willing, and seeking to work to full opportunity for useful paid employment at fair rates of compensation; to assert the responsibility of the Federal Government to use all practicable programs and policies to promote full employment, production, and real income, balanced growth, adequate productivity growth, proper attention to national priorities.”
The Act sets goals for the President. By 1983, unemployment rates should be not more than 3% for persons age 20 or over and not more than 4% for persons age 16 or over, and inflation rates should not be over 4%. By 1988, inflation rates should be 0%. The Act allows Congress to revise these goals over time.
If private enterprise appears not to be meeting these goals, the Act expressly calls for the government to create a “reservoir of public employment.” These jobs are required to be in the lower ranges of skill and pay to minimize competition with the private sector.
The Act directly prohibits discrimination on account of gender, religion, race, age or national origin in any program created under the Act. Humphey-Hawkins has not been repealed. Both the language and the spirit of this law require the government to bring unemployment down to 3% from over 9%…
This legislation only requires the federal government to take action. The private sector, which employs 85+ percent of the labor force, would be indirectly influenced by monetary policy, but would not be required to do any hiring. Still, full enforcement of existing legislation could substantially reduce unemployment by putting millions of jobless Americans to work in public service projects rebuilding our tattered infrastructure.
The ’46 and ’78 full employment laws have been winked at and shrugged off by elected officials for decades as merely symbolic statutes, despite the fact that they actually do require the President, Congress and the Fed to do specific things to create jobs.
Cohn points out that Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has introduced “The Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act” (HR 870), to fund job-training and job-creation programs, funded by taxes on financial transactions. But the bill has no chance as long as Republicans control the House.
Cohn urges President Obama to demand that the Fed “…use all the tools relating to controlling the money supply…to create the funds called for by HR 870, and to start putting people back to work through direct funding of a reservoir of public jobs as Humphrey-Hawkins mandates.” Imagine the political donnybrook that would ensue following such action, legal though it apparently would be. It’s an interesting scenario that needs some fleshing out.
The best hope for full employment remains electing strong Democratic majorities to both houses of congress, while retaining the presidency. Under this scenario, full enforcement of the ’46 and ’78 employment acts is certainly doable. But it’s a very tough challenge, given the Republican edge in Senate races next year.
There are signs that the public is tiring of the tea party obstruction of government, and therefore hope that at least some Republicans may have to move toward the center to survive. It’s possible they could be influenced by energetic protest and lobbying campaigns by their constituents.
Like other groups across the political spectrum, we progressives are very good at blaming elected officials when they don’t follow through on their reform promises. But too many progressive Dems fail to realize that finger-pointing, while necessary, is only part of our responsibility. If we really want to see significant progressive change, especially full employment, we simply must escalate our protest activities to compel our elected and government officials to act.
At a white house meeting, FDR reportedly told the great African American labor leader A. Philip Randolph “Make me do it” in response to Randolph’s appeal for racial justice and economic reform. Roosevelt was not being a smart ass; He was underscoring an important law of politics, that elected officials need protest to galvanize them to act, and progressive politicians welcome it because it provides cover, as well as encouragement.
Regarding protest leadership, we have a great role model, whose 30+ foot stone image will be unveiled not far from the Lincoln, Jefferson and FDR Memorials on the National Mall in the capitol August 28th. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial will not only honor the historic contributions of a great African American leader; It will also inspire — and challenge — coming generations of all races to emulate his strategy of militant but dignified nonviolent protest to achieve social and economic justice.
Let’s not forget that the Great March on Washington MLK and Randolph lead in 1963 was not only about racial justice. The twin goals were “Jobs and Freedom,” a challenge that echoes with prophetic relevance for our times. It was FDR who said “make me do it,” and MLK showed us the way, not only with one demonstration, but with a sustained commitment to mass protest. Now let’s make them do it.
By: J. P. Green, The Democratic Strategist, August 13, 2011