Sunday, Aug. 21, 2011 | 2 a.m.
The American people are fed up with the politically toxic atmosphere in Washington. They want lawmakers to find common ground on economic strategies that will help create jobs. They don’t want filibusters or grandstanding politicians who refuse to compromise, and they don’t want to wait until after the 2012 general election to see action, not with the national unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent. In Southern Nevada, it’s even worse at 14 percent as of July, prompting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to state that the figures are disappointing and that “job creation must be our No. 1 priority.”
The expectation is that President Barack Obama will present Congress and the American people with a jobs plan shortly after Labor Day. The Washington Post reported last week that the plan is expected to include both new spending for roads and other construction projects and tax cuts for companies that hire workers. We would hope that Tea Party Republicans would keep an open mind as the public awaits the full details of the plan, but we are not optimistic in light of the GOP’s obstructionist tactics in dealing with the Obama administration. It certainly won’t do jobless Nevadans any good if any proposal the president makes to create jobs is automatically dismissed before any reasonable dialogue occurs.
The president and Congress face an extremely tough task because there is no easy way to create jobs. Large corporations that have been hoarding cash by squeezing more work out of fewer workers haven’t increased hiring. Small businesses, which traditionally generate most of the new jobs in this country, often are unable to expand their workforces because they are still having problems obtaining bank loans to expand. And let’s not forget that too many manufacturing jobs have either vanished or been shipped overseas.
While getting Americans back to work is a vexing problem, it is crucial that any jobs plan include spending to build or replace roads, bridges, schools and other crucial infrastructure, projects that could put Americans back to work immediately. The Nevada Transportation Department has plans to spend any additional stimulus money it receives. There are any number of street repaving projects or proposed new express bus lanes in the valley that can use the money.
The construction, engineering, manufacturing and transportation jobs created from this government infusion would represent the kind of employment Southern Nevada desperately needs to boost its sagging economy. Let’s not forget that it was in the 1950s under a conservative Republican, President Dwight Eisenhower, that this nation began constructing the interstate highway system, an ambitious project that stimulated job growth and new economic opportunities.
But Tea Party Republicans, who haven’t come up with a sensible jobs plan of their own, have argued that further government spending is unnecessary. They point to the prior $787 billion economic stimulus package approved by Obama and Congress in 2009 as a waste of money, but that is far from the case. Not only did it save or create jobs, but it also included roughly $282 billion in tax cuts, $87 billion in aid to help states provide Medicaid to lower-income recipients, and $36 billion to extend or increase unemployment benefits.
In its latest report on the effects of the government spending, covering the period through March, the president’s Council of Economic Advisers said the legislation “has raised employment relative to what it otherwise would have been” by between 2.4 million and 3.6 million jobs. Many of these positions are held by teachers, police officers, firefighters and health care workers who otherwise would have become unemployed had the stimulus not been available to states such as Nevada that have struggled to remain financially solvent.
The real problem in Washington is the lack of acknowledgment by Tea Party Republicans that a balanced approach is needed to tackle many of the nation’s economic weaknesses. That means tackling the burgeoning deficit through sensible cuts developed over the long haul, with many of those reductions kicking in once the economy regains its footing. Additionally, our country’s tax code needs to be overhauled so it’s simpler, fairer and encourages businesses to hire. And such a strategy also requires making smart investments in our nation’s future — including spending that improves our infrastructure. It is imperative that lawmakers take such a reasonable approach because consumer and business confidence has been shattered. People are frightened and angry and they’re looking to the leaders in Washington to act like adults. If they don’t, there could be a lot of incumbent politicians joining tens of millions of Americans on the unemployment line in 2012.