As we try to digest another bitter morsel of economic news — higher numbers of unemployment insurance applications suggesting a return to job cutting — the White House appears handcuffed from doing anything about it.
And I can give you 53 reasons why.
Reuters’ Felix Salmon, following a blogger/reporter session with the Treasury Secretary, writes:
The big picture [from Treasury] is that although the recovery started off stronger than Treasury had hoped, the broad economy is still in a pretty weak position. The Fed is doing its part to try to keep a certain amount of momentum going, but fiscal policy is harder, because it needs the cooperation of Congress. And it’s far from clear what kind of fiscal legislation can be passed at this point.
Politico’s Mike Allen, who also attended the session, writes more breathlessly, in the voice of the collective White House:
…we can’t tell how to alter the current political constraints. RIGHT NOW, NOTHING IS POSSIBLE, except maybe the small-business package. People aren’t happy with how strong the economy is, and are worried about unemployment. But moderate Senate Rs and Ds don’t believe in the efficacy of most government efforts to mitigate that. Even where they do, they don’t want to do it without paying for them. And they don’t want to pay for anything.
It’s debatable whether or not the above represents a lack of fight from the White House or a hard-headed sense of the possible.
But it s indisputable that if the self-described Senate centrists shelved their deficit hysteria and listened to some actual economists, we could pass significant job-creating public investment that the President would sign.
So, exactly who are the culprits?
Look at the June Senate vote that filibustered a jobs bill. This vote was the last attempt Congress made to further stimulate the economy using Econ 101 — deficit spending.
Every Republican voted to filibuster the bill, except for Sen. Pat Robert (KS) who didn’t vote, but it’s fair to assume if he was in town he wasn’t breaking party ranks.
So that’s 41 of the reasons.
But this wasn’t a GOP-only filibuster. This wasn’t a close vote. Another 12 Dem caucus members joined the effort to kill the bill.
Evan Bayh (IN)
Mark Begich (AK)
Russ Feingold (WI)
Herb Kohl (WI)
Mary Landrieu (LA)
Joe Lieberman (CT)
Claire McCaskill (MO)
Robert Menendez (NJ)
Ben Nelson (NE)
Bill Nelson (FL)
Mark Pryor (AR)
Jim Webb (VA)
It’s a relatively diverse group. Some are from Obama states. Some are from McCain states. Some you’d call Blue Dogs. Some you’d call liberals. Maybe even populists.
The point is: this is a major problem.
This is not about cajoling one or two more people.
This is not even about changing the Senate rules to make minority filibusters more difficult to execute — jobs bill supporters could not muster a simple majority to support Econ 101 deficit spending.
And in all likelihood, more deficit hysterics will be joining the Senate next year, not less.
There needs to be a complete sea change in the public attitude about deficit spending to get these obstructionist Senators to get with the economic program.
As pollster Stan Greenberg explained following the survey he conducted on behalf of Campaign for America’s Future and other progressive groups: voters connect job creation and deficit reduction, even if economists don’t.
That politically cuts both ways. You could plow ahead with job-creating deficit spending. So long as it there’s enough spending for it to work well, voters can appreciate that getting the economy on track helps reduce the deficit over the long-term.
But it also gives deficit hysterics an opening to stoke skepticism for any smidge of additional deficit spending, killing its chances. And that’s where these 53 Senators have planted their flag.
All progressives have left in our arsenal is to keep making our case, with the support of actual respected economists, and hope that the economy doesn’t have to sink much deeper for the message to get through.
But the size of the roadblock that we face doesn’t make me very optimistic.
That leaves us with the stimulus we were are able to get passed, which at least prevented a Great Depression, and more muddling through.