Wednesday, October 12, 2011

GOP Filibusters American Jobs

On Tuesday evening the United States Senate voted to begin debate on the American Jobs Act.  But every GOP Senator voted against it, and invoked cloture.  Translation: they filibustered it.  It can't be brought to the floor or debated, so it can't be passed by the majority that voted to consider it.

When it comes to the American Jobs Act and the method of financing it that involves millionaires and billionaires paying a tax rate closer to what they paid in the 90s, majorities don't matter.  According to recent polls, a majority of Americans favor the American Jobs Act.  Large majorities (from 68% to 80% or more, depending on the poll and what questions are asked) support paying for it from fairer taxation on the very wealthy, and on closing favoritism to particular corporations.

The American Jobs Act includes tax cuts for the middle class and small business, and extended benefits for the unemployed.  It includes funds to rehire teachers, police and fire personnel.  It includes funding for repairing America's dangerous and inadequate infrastructure: roads, bridges, airports, railways, water and sewer systems, electricity grids, broadband-- as well as schools in dire need of repair, all of which are supported by a majority of economists and corporations.  Here's what Joe Nocera wrote about the findings of a report commissioned by the New American Foundation:

"How can we break this cycle? Like most mainstream economists, Alpert, Hockett and Roubini roll their eyes at the calls for immediate government deficit reduction, which led to the creation of the supercommittee. Reducing government spending in the short term will only make things worse.

Instead, they believe that this is perhaps the best time in recent history for the government to take on a sustained infrastructure program, lasting from five to seven years, to create jobs and demand. “Labor costs will never be lower,” says Hockett. “Equipment costs will never be lower. The cost of capital will never be lower. Why wait?” Their plan calls for $1.2 trillion in spending — not all by the government, but all overseen by government — that would add 5.2 million jobs each year of the program. Alpert says that current ideas, like tax cuts, meant to stimulate the economy indirectly, just won’t work for a problem as big the one we are facing. Indeed, so far, they haven’t."

The report itself adds this: "Beyond this, it is important to note that infrastructure investment has a healthy multiplier effect throughout the economy. The CBO estimates that every dollar of infrastructure spending generates on average a$1.6 increase in GDP. Some critical transportation and energy projects have even larger multiplier effects."

They note the cost to the U.S. economy of inadequate infrastructure: "The Department of Transportation, for example,reports that freight bottlenecks cost the American economy $200 billion a year—the equivalent of more than 1 percent of GDP. And the Federal Aviation Administration estimates that air traffic delays cost the economy $32.9 billion a year. Perhaps even more worrying, there is growing evidence that uncertainties about the future reliability of our energy, water and transportation systems are creating obstacles to investment in some parts of the country and thus impeding new business investment."

They note that time is money: "Deteriorating infrastructure is subject to “costacceleration” where repair or replacement costs grow with time. A project that costs $5 or 6 million to repair now may cost upwards of $30 million to repair merely two years from now. Since most of these projects will need to be undertaken at some point, the question is literally not whether but when."

These arguments on the basis of need and of opportunity (unemployed workers, underutilized machinery etc.) are compelling.  But so is the broader economic argument.  Right now U.S. corporations are sitting on trillions in cash which they won't invest in America, because of low demand, which is due to unemployment, low wages, economic uncertainties, and fallout from mortgage and other debts.  Only more demand for products and services in the U.S. will pry that cash from their cold hands--demand that has to match the growing demand in other countries, where labor and other costs are cheaper.  A big infrastructure program not only makes the U.S. more competitive in the future, but it puts money in the pocket of millions of workers and large and small business. When they spend that money, it breaks the cycle of low demand, low investment.

There are no fact-based counterarguments except in details.  The only reason to oppose programs like this, and like the American Jobs Act programs, is a desire for failure.  This includes politicians and their corporate backers who want the U.S. economy to fail to hurt their political opponents, most of all President Barack Obama.  It includes banks and very big companies and the rich people who run them, who don't really care if the U.S. economy does fail, because they'll be okay, they'll just do business elsewhere (they think.)   And it includes Tevangelists who don't care if the economy fails because why should they, their righteousness is much more important, and besides the sooner the apocalypse the sooner their Rapture.

Given a political system which is unresponsive to reason and to the majority, the current activities of The 99% are entirely reasonable.  There are those who believe this economic crisis is not temporary but the harbinger of a permanent decline, affected as it is by changes wrought by the Climate Crisis (higher food prices for example) and other global trends.  In the long run the world economy is in for wrenching change, but those changes will be easier to deal with if the solutions proposed by President Obama and/or these economists would go into effect.  A more efficient and longer lasting infrastructure alone is an investment in any future. 

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