A second stimulus?

Robert Reich

Kai Ryssdal: Forget for just a second all the jargon-y terms we're obliged to use when talking about the federal budget. Phrases like debt limit, tax expenditures and whatever the difference is between budget appropriations and spending authorizations. Because pretty much everywhere except Washington D.C., the actual economy is about actual people.

Commentator Robert Reich says they're too often forgotten.

Robert Reich: The recovery is showing every sign of stalling. Yet 13.5 million Americans are still out of work and millions more have stopped looking. And with housing prices sinking, millions more home owners are facing uncertainty.

So what's Washington doing about this calamity? In a word, nothing. Instead, our representatives are staging a giant game of chicken over raising the debt ceiling, and negotiating furiously over spending cuts.

None of this has anything to do with the current crisis. While it's important to cut the long-term public debt as a percent of the national economy, the last thing you want to do is cut public spending right now -- when consumers can't and won't buy enough to get the economy going, and businesses won't create enough jobs without customers.

Instead we need to boost demand. For example, exempt the first $20,000 of income from payroll taxes for the next year. Recreate the WPA to employ the long-term jobless and the Civilian Conservation Corps to give jobs to millions of unemployed young people. Let distressed home owners declare bankruptcy on their primary residence, so they can reorganize their mortgage loans.

Call it a second stimulus if you want. Call it chopped liver. It doesn't matter. The point is to put money back into peoples' pockets so they can spend more and generate more jobs, which will get the virtuous cycle going again.

Some Democrats say there's no hope of getting anything like this through Congress, so why bother. They're wrong. Tens of millions of Americans are hurting. Congress must act.

Besides, the longer the economy stays in the doldrums, the harder it's going to be to bring down the ratio of debt-to-GDP because the denominator of that equation will be lower.

The president should use his bully pulpit. If Republicans won't go along with a jobs plan immediately, he should fight for it. Isn't that what the bully pulpit was built for?

Ryssdal: Robert Reich served as secretary of labor under President Clinton. His most recent book is called Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future. Next week, David Frum assumes his rightful place in the rotation. Send us your comments in the meanwhile -- 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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