Can anything be done to help the U.S. economy before Election Day?

A close-up of the front of the U.S. $50 bill bearing the portrait of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant with the U.S. Capitol building standing in front of it.

Kai Ryssdal: There's an undeniably political side to the management of the American economy -- the labor market side, to be precise. The fortunes of anybody who's in a position to decide things in Washington -- of either party -- seems to hang in the balance. Catch is, managing the American economy? Waaaaaay easier said than done.

We've called Stan Collender to get some insights. He's a longtime federal budget guy, currently a partner at Qorvis Communications in Washington. Stan, good to talk to you.

Stan Collender: Nice to be here as always.

Ryssdal: So I have this theory and I'd be curious to get your take -- that the economy we have today is the economy we're going to have come Election Day. Agree or disagree?

Collender: Well the one thing we can be relatively certain of is that the efforts to fix the economy that have been taken so far are the only ones that we're going to see. Congress and the president aren't really going to be able to agree on much between now and the election and so the economy is pretty much on its own. It will go up, it will go down. But it's not going to be helped much from Washington.

Ryssdal: Let's say, just for the sake of argument, that the White House and Democrats in the Senate and Republicans in the House and everybody can get together and agree on something -- I don't even care what it is. Is there enough time between now and Election Day for anything to happen given the intractable beast that is the American economy?

Collender: Oh, no no. Absolutely.

Ryssdal: Really?

Collender: Yeah. Look, if you're talking about "shovel-ready" projects -- that is building big infrastructure thing -- the answer is certainly not. But if you're talking about quick-turnaround kind of spending -- you know, installation for schools or whatever -- yeah, certainly they can do and tax cuts can be implemented relatively quickly. In addition, Kai, remember that there are two ways that the government would be boosted. One would be the actual change in public policy -- tax cuts or spending increases. The second would be people feeling a little bit better about life because of those things, and therefore be willing to spend more money in advance of those things actually happening.

Ryssdal: One likes to assume that everybody's interests in Washington are aligned, do you buy that?

Collender: Well I was going to say, you're not that naive are you?

Ryssdal: It's one of those questions you've got to pose.

Collender: The answer is absolutely, positively not. This is not like it used to be in Washington. And by used to be, I mean 20-30 years ago where people would fight like hell during the campaign, but come together to try to do things and compromise. Compromise as a word has now become the equivalent of a four-letter word in Washington. At this point, there are a lot of people just pointing at the election and saying we don't want to do anything to make the economy better so Barack Obama can take credit for it. And there other folks who are saying all right, if that's what they want, let's let them have it and they'll be blamed. The polls show both of those things may be right.

Ryssdal: Riddle me this though, Stan, what are we do to come the day after Election Day if partisanship is so engrained?

Collender: Well first of all, you've got to tell me what's going to happen on Election Day. I mean, the kind of wave elections we've had up 'til now over the last two elections may happen again. I've heard from several big-name elections analysts that we could see the biggest turning out of incumbents that we've had maybe ever in American history. That maybe 125-150 people in the House could lose their seats. The only question is we don't know which ones and which parties they're going to come from. But come January when the new Congress gets sworn in, there could be a wholesale change in what we're doing. The big question, Kai, is can any of us wait that long?

Ryssdal: Stan Collender at Qorvis Communications in Washington. He writes a column for Roll Call, it's a newspaper on Capitol Hill, called "Fiscal Fitness." Stan, thanks a lot.

Collender: My pleasure.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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