Robert Reich

Kai Ryssdal: Don't know if you've been keeping track, but we're now, what, nine-something minutes into the program and the words "debt limit" have not yet been uttered. So, needless to say, nothing new on that front. Politicians and pundits have been saying for weeks now that the debt limit debate is a real test of leadership for Congress and the president.

Commentator Robert Reich says they're failing an even more important test.


Robert Reich: The job recession shows no sign of ending. This isn't a temporary jobless recovery. It can no longer be blamed on supply disruptions from Japan, Europe's debt crisis, high oil prices, or bad weather.

No, this is something else -- and it's going to be with us for years unless Washington wakes up. We're in a vicious cycle in which consumers won't buy more -- because they're scared of losing their jobs and their pay is dropping. And businesses won't hire because they don't have enough customers.

Washington, meanwhile, is playing a game of chicken over raising the debt ceiling, from which will emerge a stop-gap measure putting off most long-term budget decisions until after the election. But no one from the president on down is coming up with a plan to get Americans back to work. And the lack of leadership is appalling.

It's not for lack of ideas: Exempting the first $20,000 of income from payroll taxes for the next two years to put more cash in people's pockets, for example. Recreating the WPA and Civilian Conservation Corps to put the long-term unemployed to work. Enlarging the Earned Income Tax Credit so lower-income Americans have more purchasing power. And allowing people who have lost part-time jobs to get partial unemployment benefits, so they too can buy.

What's lacking in Washington isn't ideas. It's political courage. The president doesn't think he can get a jobs plan through a fiercely partisan Congress, so he doesn't try. But that's no excuse. Average Americans are hurting, and the pain is not going away. The president needs to fight for their jobs and their wages. The battle over the deficit is a distraction from this far more important battle. He needs to explain to Americans what must be done. And put the burden on his opponents to explain why doing nothing is preferable.


Ryssdal: Robert Reich was secretary of labor for President Clinton. His most recent book is called Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future. Our future includes David Frum in this space next week. 'Til then, tell us what you think -- click on this contact link.

About the author

Robert Reich is chancellor's professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.

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