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Robert Reich: The Swamp of Washington and the Morass of the Economy

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There’s no way out of this mess without bold leadership from Washington to rekindle consumer demand. Americans are scared. With reason.

By **Robert Reich**

By arrangement with RobertReich.Org.

Robert Reich.JPGWashington was built on a swamp. In the summer, temperatures can reach over 100 degrees—as they did [last week] when I made the rounds of Washington Democrats, repeatedly asking why no bold jobs plan is emerging.

Here’s a sample of their responses:

“Dead in the water. We’ll be lucky if we get votes to raise the debt ceiling without major spending cuts this year and next.”

“Are you kidding? It’s all budget deficit, budget deficit, budget deficit. Nobody’s thinking about anything else.”

“Republicans beat us up so bad over the first stimulus there’s no way we’re gonna try for a second.”

“We got them [Republicans] cornered on Medicare. Now they want to change the subject to jobs. Forget it.”

“No need. We’ll see job growth in the second half of the year.”

“The President doesn’t want to put anything on the table he can’t get through Congress.”

If the Democrats remain silent, the vacuum will be filled by the Republican snake oil of federal spending cuts.

And so it went. Not a shred of urgency.

Sunday I was on ABC’s This Week, debating jobs and the economy with Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama. Shelby restated the standard Republican playbook of spending cuts and tax cuts (except for one instant when he inadvertently conceded America emerged from the Great Depression only when government spent big time mobilizing the nation for World War II).

But what struck me most was the similarity between Shelby’s overall attitude and that of the Democrats I talked with—a kind of shrug of the shoulders, a sense that it’s really not all that bad out there, and that nothing can be done anyway. (In the green room, before going on, Shelby told me employment in northern Alabama was actually fairly good and the problem was near the coast.)

The recovery is stalling across the nation yet in the Washington swamp it’s business as usual.

Americans are scared, with reason. We’re in a vicious cycle in which lower wages and net job losses and high debt are causing consumers to cut their spending—which is causing businesses to cut back on hiring and reduce pay. There’s no way out of this morass without bold leadership from Washington to rekindle consumer demand.

If the Democrats remain silent, the vacuum will be filled by the Republican snake oil of federal spending cuts and cut taxes on big corporations and the wealthy. Democrats—starting with the President—must have the courage and conviction to tell the nation the recovery is stalling, and what must be done.

Copyright 2011 Robert Reich


By arrangement with RobertReich.Org.

Robert B. Reich is Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written eleven books (including his most recent, Supercapitalism, which is now out in paperback). Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s Marketplace are heard by nearly five million people.

  Robert Reich: The Truth About the American Economy : Robert Reich traces the history of the economy, from Depression to prosperity and now to stagnation. More
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  Robert Reich: Back Toward Double Dip: Will the stalling economy finally wake Washington up from the games being played over the debt ceiling? More
  Joshua Holland: 9 Signs That We May Be Living Through Another Depression: Three in 10 Americans say we’re living through another depression—are they right? More

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