Our leaders are having the wrong conversation about the wrong policies at the wrong time. What America needs now is a plan to put people back to work, not budget cuts that risk the nation’s fragile recovery. The current impasse ignores the urgency of preserving what little momentum still remains from the Recovery Act of 2009. Worse still, it offers no real vision for creating the kinds of jobs that America desperately needs.

For example, across the country, the wind industry currently supports more than 75,000 good-paying, American jobs. These hard-working Americans are on the front lines of the clean-energy economy that is helping to strengthen the middle class. However, more than half these jobs could be lost if Congress does not renew the wind-industry production tax credit (PTC) by the end of this year. Instead of grandstanding over the budget, Congress should be working to extend initiatives like the PTC to support American jobs.

Renewable energy could create jobs for millions of Americans who are still reeling from the worst recession in a generation. In many communities, and for many demographic groups, the level of unemployment is still comparable to that of the Great Depression. Despite slow but steady improvement nationally, poor urban and rural communities face unemployment levels of 20 percent or more. It’s unconscionable that Congress remains indifferent to this crisis.

We need jobs that that build infrastructure, expand the clean-energy economy, modernize schools, provide care for those who need it, protect vital public services, and address the unemployment crisis facing young people in particular. Such investments stand in contrast to a "grand bargain" that would threaten Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid or cut programs for the poor. Such calls for a grand bargain are nothing more than a grand swindle.

The fiscal cliff is truly a manufactured crisis that forces a showdown between jobs and austerity. The proponents of austerity hope to use this crisis to persuade Democrats to agree to trillions of dollars in cuts to social insurance and domestic spending in exchange for yet-to-be-determined concessions by Republicans.

Voters rejected this austerity agenda in the last election, and a broad alliance of grassroots organizations is now mobilized against it in the lame duck session of Congress. Instead, we demand a serious effort at job creation, such as renewing the tax credit for our wind industry and other investments to help our economy grow. We want an income tax code that is fairer for 98 percent of Americans. We won’t stand for cuts to benefits such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or other vital programs for vulnerable constituencies.

The vast majority of Americans agree with these basic propositions. It’s time for Congress to listen and take action.

Brune is executive director of the Sierra Club and Bhargava is executive director of the Campaign for Community Change.