Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

"When I think back on all the crap
I learned in high school
It's a wonder I can think at all
And though my lack of education
Hasn't hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall."

Paul Simon

A year ago, I was an advocate of the stimulus package — probably mostly for selfish reasons. I've been out of work since August 2008, and I hoped the stimulus would create jobs.

I can't say I believed it would create jobs. But I knew it was the only thing being proposed that had even a sliver of a chance of creating jobs.

And, in the unlikely event that you have forgotten, the economy was losing hundreds of thousands of jobs every month in those days. I wanted the stimulus to create jobs so much that I was even dreaming about it. There was no escape from reality for me, even when I shut my eyes at night and drifted off to sleep.

I guess that was to be expected. The previous six months of my life had been a nightmare. The month I was terminated, the national unemployment rate was 6.0%. Six months later, it was 8.5% — and it has been well over 9.0% for close to a year.

I have never experienced a time in my life that was more hellish. And if there was anything that made it even more frustrating for the unemployed, it was the complete absence of any attempt to do anything by the outgoing administration. Even in November and December of 2008, when unemployment followed a breathtakingly steep trajectory that took it from around 6.5% to 8.5% in a matter of weeks, nothing was done by the Bush administration.

For those who were looking for work at that time, it was like trying to climb a mountain while an avalanche came down around you.

But there was, as I say, a glimmer of hope coming from the stimulus. When congressional leaders hammered out a compromise of the House and Senate versions, Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson strutted for the cameras and said, "Call us the jobs squad."

Barack Obama signed the legislation into law and said, "Today does not mark the end of our economic troubles. But it does mark the beginning of the end — the beginning of what we need to do to create jobs for Americans scrambling in the wake of layoffs; to provide relief for families worried they won't be able to pay next month's bills; and to set our economy on a firmer foundation."

It's hard to imagine, looking back over the last year, that the stimulus has created any jobs. The latest unemployment rate is lower than it's been, although the numbers show that 20,000 jobs were lost in January.

To be fair, though, I guess the stimulus did create some jobs. It must have. The conservative Washington Times reports that Republican lawmakers secretly sought stimulus funds for projects in their states even while they were criticizing it in public.

I assume that the projects that received stimulus funds did create some jobs. Other than that, though, I can't imagine how the stimulus did much to ease the joblessness problem in this country.

And, frankly, it's tough to prove that the stimulus funds created any jobs. It might even be tougher to prove than it is to prove that jobs have been saved.

Recently, I've been hearing talk about a second stimulus. Actually, I've been hearing that kind of talk since last summer. And I think it is going to be a tough sell for some centrist Democrats in the Senate who face tough re–election campaigns.

Especially if they are from one of the 35 states where employers are having to pay more for unemployment insurance taxes, a development that seems certain to restrict hiring.

But what else can be done when jobless claims have exploded and unemployment funds have been unable to keep up?

It's part of the price to be paid for neglecting unemployment, and I think incumbents in both parties should be held accountable by the voters. But many of them probably won't be.

Today, in spite of all his talk about emphasizing jobs and the urgency of putting America back to work, Obama indicated he was willing to take "incremental steps" on job creation legislation — which sounds a lot like more delay, more squandering of precious time.

I can understand how now, in the hostile midterm environment, it is a smart political move to get as many Republicans on board as possible. It's political cover, if nothing else.

But I'm skeptical, given their record, that any Republicans will go along on this ride down the Bispartisanhip Trail. The Democrats may have to take this trip alone, even though I'm sure they would rather not.

In this economy — combined with this political environment — I guess the majority only gets one chance to do something with the help of the minority. The Democrats didn't get as much help as they would have liked, but now, with elections on the horizon, it seems ridiculous for them to think they might get Republican assistance on just about anything.

I guess, if they had been blessed with the gift of seeing the future, the Democrats would have done something to encourage job creation long before Republicans won Ted Kennedy's Senate seat.

They could have done something sooner. They should have done something sooner.

But they didn't.

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