Fiscal negotiations are the talk of Washington, but they’re not the talk around the dinner tables of millions of hard-working Americans. As usual, the conventional wisdom — and a lot of the media — is missing the real story.
The real story is that we have a jobs shortage crisis in this country, and Republicans haven’t lifted a finger to help. Democrats have put up the Restore the American Dream for the 99% Act, the American Jobs Act and several other landmark pieces of jobs legislation that Republicans killed sight unseen. They didn’t even pretend to have alternatives.
It’s one thing to miss a story as it happens. Reporters can’t be everywhere all the time. But it’s quite another to miss the real story, day in and day out, week after week after week, for more than a year. Voters care about the economy first and foremost, and people are hurting for Washington to show some leadership.
Working people aren’t talking about Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) latest comments or who’s taking Grover Norquist’s no-taxes pledge. They’re talking about putting food on the table. Doesn’t anyone out there want to tell that story? The Progressive Caucus introduced the Restore the American Dream for the 99% Act, which would create millions of jobs and rebuild U.S. infrastructure, because we’ve heard it all across the country and we know it’s past time Congress made itself useful.
For some reason, jobs aren’t something editors seem to know how to cover or professional deficit scolds know how to deal with. That doesn’t make unemployment any less real. Jobs are the issue driving our economy. Getting more people to work and paying taxes will bring much greater rewards than cutting school lunch programs. The media, the Beltway gang, and some of my colleagues who can’t wait to cut a deal — at any cost to the country and their own constituents — just don’t seem to understand that.
Unemployment in this country will be much too high until the federal government stops twiddling its thumbs and gets serious. The American people were just subjected to an 18-month monologue from Mitt Romney and the Republican Party about the need to cut corporate taxes and let private-sector wizards fix everything out of the goodness of their hearts. That argument was tossed out on its ear. Pundits, and my friends in Congress, should take notice.
The “serious people” who get paid to talk about being tough on working people, grandparents and the middle class — instead of bringing our tax code in line with reality or getting Americans back to work — are only kidding themselves. Voters aren’t buying it. With 60 percent of voters in the CNN Election Day exit poll saying the economy is their No. 1 issue, and only 17 percent saying the same of the deficit, why can’t we even have a conversation in Washington about getting the economy back on track?
We can’t have that conversation, apparently, because the Republican Party doesn’t want to have that conversation. What jobs bills have they put out there that would actually create jobs, instead of cutting tax rates and hoping the benefits trickle down to the rest of us? What have they said — before, during or after the election — that suggests they really get it? I can’t be the only one who’s noticed this.
But that’s not what gets covered. What gets covered is the idea that we have to cut Social Security, even though it doesn’t contribute a nickel to the deficit, because a few wealthy special interest groups think it’s a good idea. What gets covered is Tea Party noisemaking about ending Medicare and Medicaid, as though that will ever happen. What gets covered is who’s up and who’s down in the halls of power each minute of the day according to some magic barometer only a few people really understand.
Let’s stop talking about fiscal deadlines as though they’re a one-way cliff to the abyss and start talking about them as opportunities to fix what’s really ailing this country. We’re millions of jobs short of full employment not because of Social Security, but because the financial collapse put people out of work and our policies haven’t caught up yet.
We need direct employment efforts on the scale of the New Deal — building new roads and schools, hiring more teachers and nurses, training young people for future careers — if we’re really going to get ourselves back on track. Massive cuts and radical redistribution of wealth upward to the richest 2 percent aren’t the answer. Voters know it and they said it loud and clear. Why isn’t Washington listening? Why isn’t the media listening?
Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, is co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.