By Brent Budowsky - 11/11/09 12:31 AM EST
The president and Congress should continue work to produce healthcare reform, but must understand that to most Americans, ignoring the economic crisis that threatens their daily lives while focusing obsessively on a healthcare bill that voters do not understand creates worry, outrage and political revolt.
The president and congressional leaders should convene an emergency jobs summit to develop a major bipartisan plan to create jobs in America and call on business leaders to join with government.
In an upcoming column I will offer new proposals. For now my message is that Washington is dramatically out of touch with the economic pain, suffering, worry, fear, anger and concern of the people.
Consider the misery index that plagues more than half the nation in very dire and immediate ways:
1. The misery index begins with the real jobless rate of 17.5 percent. This includes the official unemployment rate of 10.2 percent plus those who are so depressed they have given up looking for work, plus those who cannot find full-time work and are forced to accept low-paying part-time jobs.
2. The misery index expands to the husbands, wives, sons and daughters of the 17.5 percent jobless in America and, for a growing number of families, the parents and grandparents who now live with them. Do the math. The “family misery index” is a giant swath of America suffering extreme, devastating and immediate hardship.
3. The misery index includes those who are employed and deeply worried about the future of their jobs. Today they are employed. Tomorrow they may not be, with the next major layoff announcement. They are deeply worried, and should be. Add them to the high end of the misery index.
4. The misery index includes wages that have been declining for almost 20 years, while the cost of living has been rising relentlessly. People work hard and play by the rules but year after year, for two decades, they fall further behind.
5. The misery index includes those holding most of the 700 million credit cards in America, who have had major increases in interest rates and fees, huge jumps in their minimum payments and major cuts in credit lines at their time of greatest need, even though they have always paid their bills.
6. The misery index includes those who are employed but are desperately making mortgage payments to avoid foreclosure. They could be forced from their homes to the streets; they frantically pay their bills and their mortgages, cutting back on food and medicine, even for their kids.
7. The misery index includes rising costs of healthcare and rising premiums for insurance that are punishing Americans. There is nothing in the healthcare bill that does anything for them anytime soon.
8. The misery index includes skyrocketing costs of education. Many university presidents make enormous salaries while tuition at many colleges and universities moves relentlessly higher.
The list goes on. Gasoline. Food. Fees. Higher state and municipal taxes. Powerful economic forces are crushing Americans in large and growing numbers. The poor become destitute. The middle class is under siege.
Voters see the stock market roar and Wall Street bonuses soar. They do not see their leaders do anything to restore their dreams or reduce their misery.
Voters ask Washington: Is anybody there? Does anybody care? The misery index climbs by the hour. Until our leaders act, the revolt of the voters will grow by the hour, as the misery index keeps climbing to the sky.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.