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Seriously? Scoring zero

By WILLIAM SPRIGGS, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Sept. 2, 2013 at 12:15 AM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 2 (UPI) -- The current tracking of Congress' popularity shows that only 15 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing. Now, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, struck another tone-deaf moment at a political fundraiser in Idaho when he warned that when Congress returns in September, he will lead Republicans in holding up the government's business to pick a fight with U.S. President Barack Obama over the nation's debt ceiling.

More than 11.5 million Americans are out actively looking for work, while the economy languishes with 2 million fewer jobs than at the end of 2007, more than 5 1/2 years ago.

Median family income remains thousands of dollars below the level it reached in 2007 and thousands of America's workers staged strikes last week to raise their low-wage pay to something respectable.

Americans want more jobs and a raise in pay now. How does a showdown on the integrity of the United States of America and paying its bills help address jobs and pay now? It doesn't.

The United States' credibility rests firmly on a decision made at its founding that the debt of the young, fledgling country was good. The country has never looked back and remains the most sought after currency because the word of the United States is as good as gold -- it will pay its debts.

Today, the economy stands more than $652 billion above its peak in 2007. The federal budget deficit as a share of the economy has shrunk in half since 2008. And, this year, the deficit is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to shrink by 40 percent from last year's. So, there is no need to debate the obligation of Congress to quickly pass legislation to insure the United States lives up to its word and continues to pay its bills.

What Boehner risks is more discussion of downgrading the credit worthiness of the United States and adding too much uncertainty to a world economy that is already nervous. And, what he is proposing is to waste the time of Congress debating the honor of the United States, rather than addressing restoring the almost 330,000 local educators lost to our children's public schools because of this economic downturn.

In fact, given the effect that sequestration is having on Americans, in light of the data coming in, Congress should be passing legislation to end sequestration now. For the thousands of Americans struggling looking for work it is more important to restore their unemployment benefits. For the thousands of children being shut out of Head Start programs to build their foundation for learning and America's prosperity it is more important to restore their Head Start program slots.

Boehner has made it clear. If there is a wasteful debate on raising the debt ceiling, it will be the Republicans in the House of Representatives who will be initiating it and dragging it on. Obviously, he will not rest until his actions lead to crippling the U.S. economy for a chance to blame Obama for a failing economy.

He is instead making it clear to the 77 percent of Americans who disapprove of the job he and Congress are doing, that it is time for his leadership to end and to send him home in 2014.

We have all been reminded recently of the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom on the Mall in Washington. The post-World War II-era saw several recessions: in 1948, 1953, 1957 and 1960. It seemed the government's promise in the Employment Act of 1946 to keep unemployment down was hollow. Short bursts of full-employment appeared to be the outcome of war time fervor; not a real goal of policies.

Boehner's actions remind us today that there are those who oppose full employment, or at least don't see it as a real policy goal. He wants Americans to believe he is pre-occupied with debt and government spending; not believable concerns given his deafening silence when George W. Bush's tax cuts for the rich and reckless wars drove up government spending and reversed government surpluses into soaring government debt.

No, there will be no one else to blame except Boehner if the fragile economy continues to stall with inadequate job growth and stagnant wages.

He isn't leading a charge with an infrastructure program to rebuild America's falling roads or bridges and get Americans back to work.

He isn't leading a charge to get the money to our local school systems lost because of local revenue declines caused by continued high unemployment and low family incomes, so we can hire back the teachers needed for our children's classrooms.

He isn't leading a charge to get the wages for the jobs the economy is creating up to something decent; raising the minimum wage so Americans can help support their families.

Those are the programs the American people expect Congress to be working on.

The current string of months with positive job growth has reached 34 months. The longest string of consecutive months with job gains since 1939 is 48 months. The second longest string is 45. So, there is a real chance we are running into the end of this engine of growth, which has been modest in its performance. It may stop before we regain all the jobs lost since the end of 2007. And, that would be very bad news for the economy.

As in 1963, there is a real urgency of now. We must act quickly to get the millions of Americans back to work, and the income of those working up so they can ride the waves of the economy.

With no time to waste, Mr. Boehner is scoring a zero. The same score his side needs to get in votes in 2014.

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(William Spriggs serves as chief economist to the AFL-CIO and is a professor in, and former chair of, the Department of Economics at Howard University. He is also former assistant secretary for the Office of Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor.

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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