Streams

Opinion: 'Baby-Step' Recovery Shows Government Can, Should do More

Monday, February 06, 2012 - 12:36 PM

First, the good news: the economy is improving. Last week's job report was a boost to the nation's morale. More people are getting jobs and keeping them. It's not just a sign of people dropping out of the workforce, but of people hiring again.

This is good news for regular Americans. For some, it means paychecks. For others, it means family members able to care for themselves again. For still others, it means promise: things can get better. That impact on the national psyche will improve everyone's outlook and everyone's opportunities.

And while it's good news for America, it's great news for President Obama. As the GOP candidates continue to flay each other and the GOP-controlled Congress sinks to deeper lows, the President is on stronger footing for November. All along, the state of the economy—more than the state of the Republican Party—has threatened to be the fiercest factor in November, 2012.

Now, the bad news. In his aptly titled column "Things Are Not O.K." in today's New York Times, Paul Krugman cites an Economic Policy Institute observation that 2012 began with fewer Americans employed than 11 years before. We're far from where we need to be.

Furthermore, many Americans are still suffering. For all the debates about what codes may be implied in Gingrich calling Obama "the Food Stamp President," the bigger point is that many Americans rely on assistance, and even that amount of support is meager. Romney allowed that the social safety net may have gaps. The ability for many Americans to adequately access healthy meals is a big one.

All of this means that while the news might be getting better, it's no excuse for inaction. In his Nevada victory speech, Romney said we shouldn't be content that things could be worse; we're a country that believes things should always get better. I happen to agree. But as Krugman points out, you already see financial actors suggesting we don't need to do more to make that better America, which Obama, Romney, Krugman, I and the majority of Americans want.

And that brings us to the other news, neither good nor bad: that this recovery is coming about without sweeping action from Washington.

In the fall, the President called for bold action...and Congress hardly responded. Too mired in the swamp of record low approval ratings, Congress couldn't find its way toward collaborative, decisive, comprehensive efforts—and earned even lower marks as a result.

Conservatives may argue this proves we don't need government action. After all, if the economy is improving without congressional support, let's keep DC out of the way and watch the growth continue.

However, government decisions are helping: from big ones like maintaining the Fed's low interest rates, to more targeted initiatives like the Startup America program, to the minimal steps Congress could take such as extending unemployment benefits and payroll tax cuts.

If these moves—more executive than legislative, more incremental than sweeping—can help a little, couldn't bigger steps help more?

Maybe my belief that bold action means bigger solutions is just ideological—maybe small steps allow you to measure and adjust more nimbly, and make progress more consistently. In which case, we should be trying many small steps (as Obama's American Jobs Act proposed), not stopping every step, as the Tea Party Caucus counters. Whatever's working, I'd say let's do more of it bigger, bolder and faster. But at the very least, let's not do it less and slower.

The most important thing is an economy that recovers and works for all. So far, we're recovering and working for more: baby steps, not heroic leaps, in the right direction.

Tags:

More in:

Comments [5]

Marcello from Brooklyn

@listener

While the prolonged economic downturn has pushed many discouraged people out of the workforce, the recent gains are positive ones and do not reflect even more workers dropping out of the labor force as you can see here:

http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm

I think that was the sense of the sentence in the post.

“Like Obamacare...like higher taxes....like steeper regulations...like anything else he thinks business owners should pay for and he can run past Congress”.

Obamacare...fantastic! The United States is the only developed nation in the world to have 50 millions people without any health coverage, and scores more of people underinsured. That is without even counting those who have insurance but can see their coverage dropped when most in need of it.
All this, while spending approximately 25% more than any other developed country and crashing businesses under the weight of having to provide health care to their employees at ever growing costs. In light of this shameful fact, any initiative that might address the problem is welcomed.

Higher taxes? Please list when did Obama raise taxes. With the exception of increases in the fiscal pressure on cigarettes and tanning salons in order to finance the CHIP (Children Health Insurance Program) Obama has nor raised any taxes. In fact he agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years as you can see here:

http://www.factcheck.org/2011/02/obamas-tax-tale/

Moreover, even when and IF he will raise taxes, he intends do it for people making more than $200K a year as you can check here in paragraph titled 'Ever-Higher Taxes for Whom?

http://www.factcheck.org/2011/05/ryans-budget-spin/

“The Democrat leadership could have raised the debt ceiling on their own terms in one day anytime in 2010...”
You are right. He could have done that. When asked why Obama didn't, he repsonded that, since it was routine procedures he expected the GOP to act responsibly. I guess that's what you get when you trust the GOP...

“Inherited by the Republican Congress led by Gingrich to be exact despite Clinton's objections”

Of course!...How could I forget!...The balanced budget achieved during the Clinton administration (Gignrich left on 1998...) was all due to the republican congress....
As I said, head I win. Tail you lose. That's the beauty of the conservative ability to invent reality...
But regardless of who takes the credit for it, the fact remains that when Bush became president he found a 214 billions dollars surplus and when he left there was debt as far as the eye could see.
Or is this belief the result of some tremendous amount of ignorance?...

Feb. 08 2012 11:38 PM
listener

Marcello from Brooklyn

"..Who ever said that 1.2 million people dropping out of the workforce is not significant .."
That huge number is not mentioned in the piece and people need to know it.

"..People hiring part-time because "they don't know what this president has in store for them"? Like what?...

Like Obamacare...like higher taxes....like steeper regulations...like anything else he thinks business owners should pay for and he can run past Congress.

"Is last summer's GOP refusal to raise the debt ceiling..."
The Democrat leadership could have raised the debt ceiling on their own terms in one day anytime in 2010 but they deliberately left it for the Republican House.

"Did the fact that president Bush transformed the budget surplus inherited by Clinton..."
Inherited by the Republican Congress led by Gingrich to be exact despite Clinton's objections.

As you can see there is a tremendous amount of ignorance out there by people who get their info from leftist websites.

Feb. 07 2012 02:56 PM
Mike from Bronx, New York

Economic improvement is only statistical. It's like when a house is on fire, decrease of flame of fire does not help if the house is still on fire. For most people, a can of tuna that used to cost 50₵, now costs $1.50 etc. Price of every essentials items went up. People are unemployed for years. If you rely on logic, economy cannot and will not recover enough to reach the masses as long as war or threat of war continues. Republican plan to reduce taxes for the rich and reduce services for the poor will have only cosmetic affect on the economy. President Obama is trying his best. But I am preparing to slide down to the black hole.

Feb. 07 2012 12:14 AM
Marcello from Brooklyn

@listener
Who ever said that 1.2 million people dropping out of the workforce is not significant or is it something to celebrate? How are you getting to that conclusion? I don't see anything in this blog post that leads to that!
People hiring part-time because "they don't know what this president has in store for them"? Like what?...
Again what are you referring to exactly? And what evidence do you have to corroborate this presumed link between business investment plans and the alleged climate of "uncertainty" fostered by Obama? Is last summer's GOP refusal to raise the debt ceiling and bringing the country to a financial downgrade contributing to that uncertainty? And what about that other more recent fiasco: the GOP refusal to extend the payroll tax cuts? Is that contributing to economic uncertainty?
Did the fact that president Bush transformed the budget surplus inherited by Clinton and turned it into an ocean of debt contribute to any of the economic uncertainty you seem to imply?
The economy shows sign of improvement. I see that as reason enough to celebrate.
What is going to happen when and IF these discouraged unemployed will rejoin the workforce? I don't know but it would be a good idea to at least wait and see whether or not that happens first so we can all base our judgment on things that exist in reality rather that in our minds only.
My impression is that, in the case of our "listener", it might not matter anyway because his/her mind seem to be already set: if the economy struggles, it's entirely Obama's fault. If it grows, it's going to be a "fake" growth and therefore cannot be credited to Obama. Head: I win. Tail: you lose.

Feb. 06 2012 06:15 PM
listener

"...let's do more of it bigger, bolder and faster" was exactly what Obama and his Democratic Congress called for in 2009 for two years and trillions of borrowed dollars later. Apparently they and their supporters have learned nothing from recent history.

"It's not just a sign of people dropping out of the workforce, but of people hiring again"

So 1.2 million dropping out is not significant and people hiring part-time and contract workers because they do not know what else this President has in store for them is something to celebrate?
When some of those 1.2 million start to return to the job market and unemployment rises once more will Obama be magically absolved of blame and it swiftly becomes the fault of Congress again, or Wall Street or Romney or
(fill in the blank)?

Feb. 06 2012 02:34 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.

Sponsored

About It's A Free Blog

Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a blog, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Supported by

WNYC is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation: Because a great city needs an informed and engaged public.  Learn more at revsonfoundation.org.

Authors

Feeds

Supported by