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August 11, 2011 8:35 AM A matter of priorities

By Steve Benen

Washington may generally look and act like a slow, lumbering beast, but as we’ve seen on occasion, institutions can move pretty quickly when they want to. Getting policymakers motivated appears to be the tricky part.

Getting the relevant players motivated to tackle debt reduction seems to be pretty easy. As we saw during the debt-ceiling hostage negotiations, Washington’s most powerful leaders were willing to invest countless hours in private talks, behind-the-scenes chats, and formal and informal negotiations. Once an agreement was reached, the House and Senate acted with great speed to pass their plans, and continue to move expeditiously on a debt-reduction “super committee.”

Imagine if policymakers took job creation this seriously.

With national unemployment hovering above 9 percent, a leading House Democrat is pushing to establish a “supercommittee” for creating jobs.

Rep. John Larson (Conn.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus, wants to amend the recently passed debt-limit package to establish a joint select committee on job creation to operate alongside the already mandated Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to House members earlier in the week, Larson argued that the nation’s jobs crisis is only exacerbating its long-term fiscal problems and therefore demands Congress’s immediate attention.

How would Larson’s panel differ from the debt-reduction Murray/Hensarling committee? Structurally, it wouldn’t — the committee would have 12 members, with each of the four main leaders appointing three lawmakers. The difference, of course, would be the goal: Larson wants the focus on job creation, not debt reduction.

“This would allow the Congress to simultaneously consider both our near-term (high unemployment) and our long-term (growing debt) challenges later this year,” Larson wrote in his letter to House colleagues. “Just like the Deficit Committee, all options would be on the table. We owe the American people nothing less.”

Does this plan have merit? Of course. Will it gain traction? Almost certainly not. The feedback loop has simply become too intense and all-consuming, and Republicans are too convinced that the jobs crisis should be ignored.

But whether Larson’s idea goes anywhere or not, I’m glad he’s pushing it and I’m hoping his Democratic colleagues endorse it. The larger discussion is badly in need of a detour, and the more officials push for a change in priorities, the better.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • sjw on August 11, 2011 8:38 AM:

    So, we hope that Rep. Larsen will do something. That the supercommittee will do something. That Bernanke and the Fed will do something.

    But not Obama.

    Nope. No hope there.

    But no doubt he'll lead from behind ...

  • c u n d gulag on August 11, 2011 8:46 AM:

    Yeah, Obama should use the bully pulpit, whether something gets passed or not.

    If nothing's ventured, not only is nothing gained, but we lose because it all feeds into the rights narrative of 'Austerity now, austerity forever!.'

    I think Obama should do what Steve recommended, and right after those Republicans get their projects going, I have NO doubt there'll be pressure from constituents of other Republican Congresscritters, and the program could be extended to all districts who want money for infrastructure.
    Bingo - stimulus!!!

    Call it the 'Reagan Shinier City on the Hill Project", or "The Reagan Infrastructure Recovery - Build UP THOSE WALLS Plan"', or some other bullsh*t with Reagans name attached.

    After 30 years of "The Reagan Devolution," maybe he could do some good after all!

  • ComradeAnon on August 11, 2011 9:01 AM:

    Well, at least we know what the suggestions will be from the republicans. Cut taxes for the wealthy, lower the top tax bracket for corporations, etc.

  • Anonymous on August 11, 2011 9:20 AM:

    The feedback loop has simply become too intense and all-consuming, and Republicans are too convinced that the jobs crisis should be ignored.

    Then maybe it's time that we, the people, break that feedback loop.

    I'm not advocating violence, but peaceful demonstation and civil disobedience - maybe even some kind of strike. "Calling your representative," at this point, seems to have become a pointless activity. We need to follow the lead of the folks in Wisconsin.

  • bdop4 on August 11, 2011 9:28 AM:

    I agree with Anon (or whoever actually posted, I've done it before). Some sort of large public action is warranted.

    I'm trying to get to DC in October, but funds are scarce at this point. I'll be at the local protest if I can't.

    But it appears that all the conventional paths of persuasion are not working. All my congressional reps are on board, but there's no evidence from national leadership that they want to risk the funds or "political capital" (WTF that is) to drop the deficit insanity and do something constructive for a change.

    It's pathetic that voters will have to take time off and march on Washington to get congress to do it's job.

  • steve duncan on August 11, 2011 9:28 AM:

    Maybe politicians believe there aren't any jobs out there to create that are worth the grief it would take to create them. Doing things costs money. That means spending. Once you advocate spending money your town halls, offices, homes, cars, walk to work, relatives, heirs, staff, co-workers, former teachers and everyone else in the great Kevin Bacon-6 degrees of separation game of your personal life is in for a Tea Party harangue-a-thon morning noon and night. You're instantly dropped into a Ritalin deprived nursery of AARP blue hairs demanding "GET THE GOVERNMENT'S HANDS OFF MY MEDICARE AND SOCIAL SECURITY!!!! Agenda 21! Muslims! Gays! Box turtle sex!!! AHHHhhhh.....!!!!!" It's too bad there isn't a way to let the 1/2 of the nation that's riding the Crazy Train just run off the rails, suffering their own fiery crash while the rest of us get on with the business at hand. Unfortunately the Crazy Train transit rules say "All Aboard!!" and next thing you know your ticket is getting punched.

  • kevo on August 11, 2011 9:33 AM:

    Our nation's Congress is piddling away great floes of time and resources while we Middle and Working Classers get ready to freeze this winter when our government cuts its aid to help us heat our homes - ah, but that would be the least of it!

    Super Committee, smuper committee! Demand Therapy is what our nation's economic woe needs! If we had a collective wisdom in this country, the recent 79% of us who think Congress stinks would be in the 90th percentile, and for that I guess our Congressional twits should be thankful!

    Yet, when will these elected numbskulls realize they have it ass-backwards, and begin to govern reasonably? -Kevo

  • FRP on August 11, 2011 10:19 AM:

    Kevo , thanks for the images .

  • sparky on August 11, 2011 10:41 AM:

    We need jobs!! We need a really big jobs program focusing on infrastructure. We need a congress that's willing to put politics aside and work to get Americans back to work. And we need a president who'll be out there everyday pointing out that the republicans in congress are blocking the programs we need to implement to get out of this mess. He needs to stop blaming this problem on Washington and get specific--it's NOT Washington, it's a small group of teapoots who represent a small segment of the total populace. He shouldn't worry about pissing them off because they don't vote for black people anyway.

  • Hannah on August 11, 2011 12:14 PM:

    http://merkley.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/?id=03161F15-8973-4C21-A812-0D3D9B38E820

    23 US Senators (22 Dems plus Sanders) have written a letter to McConnell, telling him that the JSC should focus on jobs.

    Yeh, I know...

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