As everyone knows — except certain politicians in both parties in Washington — the greatest problem facing America is an undernourished economy that just can't create enough jobs to get unemployment below that economically key 7 percent threshold. In September, the economy created only 148,000 new jobs, a dismal statistic five years after the start of the Great Recession.
But, other than sporadically, the jobs crisis is not an issue that animates Washington. Instead, national politics revolves around scorched-earth wars over federal spending and steel-cage struggles over the rollout of Obamacare. From the sidelines, pundits wail over the self-destructive polarization in Washington and the failure of the political system to deal with questions like immigration and global warming.
Next week, as Senate and House negotiators begin their first serious long-term budget negotiations in four years, Washington will be filled with excited talk about a grand bargain to reduce the deficit. Economic growth, the engine of job creation, will be discussed only in passing amid the predictable squabbles over tax increases and entitlement cuts.
Of course, there is a connection between the deficit and the overall health of the economy. But that causal nexus can be exaggerated. In fact, robust economic growth will do far more to reduce the deficit than green-eyeshade budget austerity. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, a first-term Barack Obama adviser,recently concluded that “an increase in just 0.2 percent in annual growth would entirely eliminate the projected long-term budget gap.”
If only the politicians would listen to the polls. Yes, you read that right. What is happening in Washington symbolizes a dangerous disconnect between the priorities of the voters and those of their elected leaders.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll this week found that 75 percent of all Americans consider the economy to be in “not so good” or “poor” condition. The 2 percent in the poll who pronounce the economy to be in “excellent” shape presumably work on Wall Street.