Washington was built on a swamp. In the summer, temperatures can reach over 100 degrees — as they did over the last few days when I made the rounds of Washington Democrats, repeatedly asking why no bold jobs plan is emerging.
Here’s a sample of their responses:
“Dead in the water. We’ll be lucky if we get votes to raise the debt ceiling without major spending cuts this year and next.”
“Are you kidding? It’s all budget deficit, budget deficit, budget deficit. Nobody’s thinking about anything else.”
“Republicans beat us up so bad over the first stimulus there’s no way we’re gonna try for a second.”
“We got them [Republicans] cornered on Medicare. Now they want to change the subject to jobs. Forget it.”
“No need. We’ll see job growth in the second half of the year.”
“The President doesn’t want to put anything on the table he can’t get through Congress.”
And so it went. Not a shred of urgency.
This morning I was on ABC’s “This Week” with Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, talking about jobs and the economy. We were wedged in between heated discussions about Anthony Weiner. Shelby’s remarks were from the standard Republican playbook of spending cuts and tax cuts (except for one instant when he inadvertently conceded America emerged from the Great Depression only when government spent big time mobilizing the nation for World War II.)
But what struck me most was the similarity between Shelby’s attitude and that of the Democrats I talked with — a kind of shrug of the shoulders, a sense that it’s really not all that bad out there, and that nothing can be done anyway. (In the green room, before going on, Shelby told me employment in northern Alabama was actually fairly good and the problem was near the coast.)
The recovery is stalling across the nation yet in the Washington swamp it’s business as usual.
Americans are scared. The recovery is running out of steam. We’re in a vicious cycle in which lower wages and net job losses and high debt are causing consumers to cut their spending — which is causing businesses to cut back on hiring and reduce pay. There’s no way out of this morass without bold leadership from Washington to rekindle consumer demand.
If the Democrats remain silent, the void will be filled by Republicans selling the snake oil that all we need do cut federal spending, balance the budget, and cut taxes on big corporations and the wealthy. Nothing could be further from the truth, but Americans won’t know it unless the Democrats — starting with the President — have the courage and conviction to tell the nation what’s happening and what must be done.