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May 18, 2010

Stimulus Shifts To Reverse -- Where Is The Congress?

-- by Dave Johnson

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

The stimulus is running out, millions lose health insurance in 12 days as COBRA subsidies start to run out, unemployment benefits also start running out, all while the unemployment rate is rising. Foreclosures are up. At the same time out-of-money states are laying off hundreds of thousands of employees, beginning with teachers. (But hey, who needs teachers?) They are deferring infrastructure maintenance like roadwork and water/sewer systems and other public investments that employ people while creating the conditions that enable to economy to grow.

In fact, the stimulus is not only running out, but these state layoffs and other factors mean that government is now a net drag on the economy. The hope was that the stimulus would be enough to hold off the effects of the downturn and provide enough of a boost to get the "economic engine" running again. But for various reasons much of the stimulus was cut back or wasted on ineffective tax cuts, so as it runs out there are signs that the economy could sink back down.

This chart shows government contribution to GDP growth, now negative due to state and local governments laying off employees and reducing infrastructure investment.

publicsector1

With all of this going on the DC "conventional wisdom" is that the economy has turned the corner, and no more help is needed. Wall Street and big corporations are making money again so it is time to move on and let regular people fend for themselves. The public wants jobs and a government that works for them, the DC insiders want government to stop spending on We, the People and focus on big corporations.

Compare this DC "conventional wisdom" with the current jobs situation. While the economy has finally stopped losing jobs, it is not yet creating enough jobs even to keep up with new workers entering the labor force. Never mind putting unemployed people back to work. Following is a chart of job losses during recessions. This chart shows just how bad this recession is compared to previous recessions, and how we are nowhere near normal.

EmployRecessionApril2010

This "Wall Street and corporations are OK so our jobs here is done" sentiment combines with the right-wing drumbeat that anything government (We, the People) does is bad, (which translates to all decisions should be made by the biggest corporations) and the related drumbeat that any government spending on We, the People is a very bad thing after President Bush left us with a $1.4 trillion deficit.

Congress, what's the holdup?

There are efforts in the Congress to try to do something to help the situation for regular people. For example, the War Supplemental (this is in a war bill because bills for bailing out Wall Street, and for anything to do with military MUST PASS and do so within 72 hours) contains $23 billion to help keep states from laying off 300,000 teachers. It is meeting opposition as "another bailout." That's right, the very people who bailed out Wall Street are now blocking a bill helping teachers, calling it a "bailout!"

Then there is the Local Jobs for America Act. This act puts $75 billion into direct government hiring at the state and local level, creating or saving an estimated one million jobs. According to EPI, the $39 billion comes straight back from taxes and reduced unemployment payments!

Unemployment is about 10%. Millions are unemployed and are about to lose COBRA subsidies and unemployment benefits. States are laying off hundreds of thousands. Investment in maintaining and modernizing infrastructure is nil. DC elites think everything is fine. The disconnect between people inside and outside the DC bubble is growing almost as fast as the concentration of wealth at the top.

President Obama has talked about a bold, large scale vision for a new direction for the country. But Congress and the President are getting trapped in austerity budget thinking that won’t allow them to go in direction of stimulus and helping regular people. If there is to be no money because of an austerity budget then American competitiveness, the economy and the mood of the public can only get worse. Do the DC elites actually believe the public is going to reward this with votes?

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Posted by Dave Johnson at May 18, 2010 11:22 AM


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