Yesterday, I flagged the 12 Democratic Senators who, in addition to all 41 Republican Senators, have prevented Congress from using Econ 101 deficit spending to create jobs and spark a robust recovery.
I’m sure some of these Senators are sincere and some are cynical.
Some know full well that government needs to spend when the private sector isn’t, but are afraid to explain Econ 101 to their constituents. But others truly believe that our government risks losing credibility in the global bond market if we take on any more debt, and our economy will recover on its own soon enough.
Both groups of Senators have reason to urgently reassess their view.
The evidence is piling up that our government needs to do more. As economist Mark Thoma wrote in Moneywatch yesterday:
Initial [jobless] claims are above the “breakeven” level where there are neither job losses nor job gains, and this level indicates continued job losses. Initial claims have been fairly flat for the last several months and show no sign of making a strong downward movement, and there’s little in other data series to suggest such an improvement is just around the corner … this latest piece of bad news hopefully has policymakers at least questioning the wisdom of the “wait and see” approach…
Further, there is no cause for concern that spending more will damage our fiscal credibility in the bond market. As Paul Krugman writes today:
…it has become clear that investors aren’t worried about deficits; they’re worried about stagnation and deflation. And they’ve been signaling that concern by driving interest rates on the debt of major economies lower, not higher.
Thoma is properly pessimistic that this week’s disappointing jobless data will prompt Congress to suddenly step on the gas pedal. Even if all 12 Democratic deficit hysterics came to their senses, it’s extremely unlikely that a single Republican Senator would break party ranks and give Democrats a big political victory weeks before the midterm elections.
But there is a small window of opportunity for some Senators to change course — this December, when the post-election session of Congress convenes.
Conservatives have been trying to use what is unfortunately known as the “lame duck” Congressional session — the session between Election Day and the swearing-in of new members — to stoke fear among voters. They argue a sneaky power grab is planned to ram through legislation to cap carbon pollution, ease union organizing and reform our immigration system.
Of course, having elected officials pass legislation during their terms of office is not at all a power grab.
Legislative ethics aside, a last-minute flurry of major reforms is simply not going to happen. All those issues have not cleared the Senate because they split them Dem caucus and attract few if any Republican votes. The 60 votes will not magically materialize after Election Day.
But maybe, just maybe, a sense of economic emergency could propel certain Senators to clear real job creation legislation before a likely increase in the deficit hysteric Senatorial ranks is sworn in.
We have the 12 Democrats who voted for the Recovery Act in 2009, but turned off the spigot and voted against additional Econ 101 deficit spending this past June:
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)
We would also need the votes of the two Democrats who were not present for that June vote:
Carte Goodwin (WV)
Blanche Lincoln (AR)
But we would still need some Republicans. Who could possibly be open to reassessing their views about how to spark job creation?
There are five Republican Senators who will be leaving the Senate — not counting retiring Sen. Jim “Tough S–t” Bunning — and will be free of conservative movement pressures:
Bob Bennett (UT)
Kit Bond (MO)
Judd Gregg (NH)
George LeMieux (FL)
George Voinovich (OH)
Plus, there are the three northeast Republicans, who have least voted for some of the unemployment insurance extensions:
Scott Brown (MA)
Susan Collins (ME)
Olympia Snowe (ME)
And that’s 22.
Yet be aware, there are two special elections for currently Democratic-held seats being held simultaneously with the general election — meaning that if the Republican wins, he would be seated immediately to finish out the current term. Their votes would surely be needed to pass emergency jobs legislation in December.
Mike Castle (DE)
Mark Kirk (IL)
Both are in traditionally Democratic states. And both Republican candidates have some moderate votes in their backgrounds, such as their support for carbon cap legislation.
But conservatives have pressured Castle and Kirk to oppose passing major reforms in a post-election Congressional session. New pressure would have to be put on them to treat a jobs bill as an “emergency.”
And an emergency it is.
Long-term employment is at the highest level in recorded history and as Krugman notes, long-term unemployment can “leave workers permanently unemployable.”
This is a time to step back and step up. To reassess old assumptions and act on behalf of country and not blind ideology or knee-jerk partisanship.
I don’t expect Senators will be able to do that before November. I don’t expect there will be enough Senators capable of doing that after January.
I hold a slim hope there will be enough in December.