Editorial: Save some ire for Capitol Hill October 26, 2011 2 Comments Share tweet Editorial Board By: Editorial Board We have commended the Occupy Wall Street protesters for directing attention to imprudent financial sector risk-taking and economic inequality. But more than highlighting problems, we like protests that press for solutions. For this, we suggest the protesters add a new target: Capitol Hill. For one thing, while the financial firms that caused this crisis could certainly improve their risk-management practices, it is the government’s responsibility to reform the incentive system that failed so spectacularly. Obstinate lawmakers blocking reform, not those who work on Wall Street, are culpable for future threats to economic stability. Moreover, with millions of Americans looking for work in this recession, it is Congress, not Wall Street, refusing to enact sensible, politically moderate policies that would help address the nation’s most urgent problem. Protesters have a variety of complaints, but it seems clear that the unemployment crisis is a significant source of their motivation. Fourteen million Americans have been unemployed for an average of 40.8 weeks, nearly twice as long as the previous post-World War II high. As the 6.2 million who have been out of work for more than six months struggle to make ends meet, research indicates that their mental and physical health deteriorates, as will their prospects for future earnings and employment. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has called this situation a “national crisis” and urged politicians to act. But politicians have failed to take any action, emphatically rejecting President Barack Obama’s push to combat unemployment with a series of bipartisan initiatives outlined in the American Jobs Act. The bill would not completely fix the economy, but its impact would be real. Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics and former adviser to John McCain, estimates that passing it would create 1.9 million extra jobs next year, enough to cut the unemployment rate by a full percentage point. Furthermore, the ideas in this jobs bill ought to be uncontroversial. The central proposals include tax cuts for small businesses and hiring veterans, which Republicans have long supported, payroll tax cuts supported by both parties several times in the past decade and infrastructure investments co-sponsored by Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts and Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. Experts estimate that just maintaining the condition of America’s deteriorating infrastructure will require $2.2 trillion. With over a million construction workers are looking for work and the cost of borrowing at an all-time low, there is no better time to fix our roads and bridges. The American Jobs Act would have done that, put money in the pockets of consumers, stemmed the tide of laid-off teachers and firefighters, and much more if it had not stalled in the United States Congress. Republicans, who unanimously killed the bill, have presented no alternative. Their so-called jobs plan contains arguably sensible long-run policies, but according to independent, nonpartisan analysts such as Moody’s and the Congressional Budget Office will have no impact on short-run employment. Ostensibly, opponents of supporting job creation do so in deference to the threat of long-run deficits. But when they had their chance to rectify America’s fiscal excesses, Congress refused to solve that problem as well. When President Obama offered Speaker Boehner a plan to reduce future deficits by $4 trillion over the next decade through 83 percent spending cuts and 17 percent revenue increases, his offer almost exactly mirrored the original Republican proposal of 85 percent spending cuts and 15 percent tax increases. That would seem like a promising circumstance for a resolution, but when opposition to the President manifested itself as opposition to compromise on even the most favorable terms, we ended up instead with meager deficit reduction, a haphazardly constructed “supercommittee” and a downgrade of America’s credit rating. Economists, including conservative Republicans like Bernanke, have long emphasized that reducing long-run deficits can and should be coupled with continuing to support a weak economy in the near term. Instead, our Congress produced the worst of both worlds, damaging the recovery now and doing nothing to improve our financial health in the future. Our list of complaints about Congress could easily keep going. It almost seems too hopeful to criticize the utterly miserable failures to address long-run issues such as climate change or education. If they can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, we don’t expect to see cartwheels. But if the Occupy Wall Street protesters care about jobs — and we believe that this concern has provided fuel to their fire — then they ought to focus their anger at the lawmakers who ignore this issue. At best, congressional inaction is condemning American workers to unprecedented levels of protracted suffering. And at worst, if it allows the current payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits to expire at the end of the year, it could well drag the economy back into recession. Firms on Wall Street have created major problems for America, but have very little power to solve them. The people hurting America now are the ones on Capitol Hill. Congress financial crisis Occupy Wall Street protests 2011-10-26 Editorial Board October 26, 2011 2 Comments Share tweet Subscribe Click here to subscribe to our daily newsletter of top headlines.