This economy is in free fall. Workers are losing jobs. Families are losing homes. Manufacturing is plummeting; exports declining; housing collapsing; construction on hold; state and local budgets slashed; retail stores and malls going belly up.
Unemployment and underemployment is already above double digit levels. In our cities, for young men, about one in two is without work. The downward spiral that has started is accelerating across the world.
What we need now is bold, immediate action. As President elect Obama sates, "If we don't act swiftly and boldly, we could see a much deeper economic downturn." He's putting together a plan for significant spending and tax cuts to get the economy going. The Main Street recovery plan put out by over 120 economists, major unions and over 100 organizations calls for $900 billion over two years as a "floor" for a reasonable plan. The Congressional Progressive Caucus calls for $1 trillion, as does Nobel prize winning economists Joe Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, as do the best governors in the country–including David Paterson of New York, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Ted Strickland of Ohio.
Speed is as important as size. We need immediate action before the decline gains momentum. The worst thing the Congress can do now is to equivocate, posture, play partisan games, and delay the process while whittling down the recovery package.
Do they understand this? By all early indications, the answer is no. As this country faces the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression in the early 1930s, our Senate leadership seems blind to what needs to be done.
Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is frozen in partisan pomposity. He argues that the program shouldn't go forward without "Republican support." The price of that support? He wants more tax cuts for business and the wealthy–and opposes paying for health care for workers that lost their jobs or providing unemployment insurance to part time workers–those who piece together two or three jobs to support their families–who are often the first to be laid off. He opposes transferring money to the states and cities to avoid crippling lay-offs of police, medical personnel, teachers, cutbacks in colleges. Better make that a loan to the states to "make them spend it more wisely." Surely our states and localities could burn the money and they would not be as dangerously irresponsible as the wealthy have been over the past years, even as McConnell and Bush have shoveled more and more tax cuts their way.
McConnell argues that the Senate shouldn't rush. "This is an enormous bill. It could be close to a $1 trillion spending bill. Do we want to do it with essentially no input, for example, in the Senate from Republican senators..? I don't think that's a good idea,"
This probably polls well–particularly among conservatives — but it is ruinous for the economy. What the Congress needs to do now is to act immediately and boldly. Public investment is far more efficient in putting people back to work than tax breaks that get squandered on goods made in China or, more sensibly, simply pay down debt but don't help economy get moving.
What McConnell is proposing is the economic equivalent of the old formula of "all deliberate speed" for advancing integration. All deliberate speed turned out to mean all deliberate obstruction. And now, on the economy, McConnell's Republicans seem to be gearing up for deliberate obstruction once more. They'd risk the economy going down for partisan purposes.
The Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid seems ready to cater to McConnell's foolishness. He's already rejected setting "some false deadline" for delivering legislation to President-elect Barack Obama in favor of a more deliberate approach." Senator Chuck Schumer says maybe the Senate will have it done by March.
Again that's just wrong. A more deliberate approach allows for more obstruction and more corruption. What we need is action now. A deadline–like having the plan ready for Obama to sign when he is sworn in on January 20–is needed to force action. Democrats should be rounding up the votes they need to pass it; let history and the American people judge those who stand in the way. The worst thing they could do is to return to business as usual in the Senate. There is only one way to stop that–and that is for the American people to rise up immediately and demand the change we need.