As I See It: House Minority Leader John Boehner wasn't that impressed when the Dow Jones industrial average shot past 10,000 last week, a psychological milestone in a stunning six-month comeback.
House Minority Leader John Boehner wasn't that impressed when the Dow Jones industrial average shot past 10,000 last week, a psychological milestone in a stunning six-month comeback. "At the end of the day, the American people aren't looking at the stock market in terms of putting food on the table," he said.
That's a bit surprising, since Boehner was concerned about the Dow's poor performance a few months ago, characterizing its doldrums as a reflection on Obama. "Certainly the stock market hasn't acted very well" since Obama's inauguration, he said.
But let's take Boehner at his word and ignore the evidence of yet more Republican hypocrisy. He's right about the average worker's disconnect from the Dow, since half of American households don't own equities of any sort — not even investments in a 401(k).
Those workers who do have retirement portfolios are much more worried about the here and now: Will I keep my job? Can I make the car note? How will I pay escalating health insurance premiums? The stock market's swift escalation (it's premature to call it a "recovery") is simply one more illustration of the gap between Wall Street and Main Street.
So given Boehner's concerns about unemployment, he and the rest of the Republican leadership have rushed to grant relief to unemployed and underemployed Americans, right? Not so much. When the House voted last month to extend unemployment benefits, Boehner voted "no."
Many Republicans supported the bill, but Boehner represents a Republican leadership that is belatedly concerned about deficits, stuck in an old paradigm that worships tax cuts and dedicated to foiling Obama, no matter the cost to constituents. Democrats, for their part, have worried too much about criticism coming from Boehner and his compatriots instead of keeping their focus on helping Americans weather the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
(Republicans controlled the House and Senate for six years and never worried about a balanced budget. Most of the current projected deficit can be traced to the recession and to policies implemented during the tenure of George W. Bush.)
Dems caved in to pressure from Republicans and members of their own fiscally conservative caucus, the Blue Dogs, to keep the stimulus package at $787 billion, when it probably should have been larger. Certainly, states and cities needed more aid; their job cuts are helping inflate the unemployment rate. Most mainstream economists agree that a deep economic downturn is not the time for the federal government to worry about cost-cutting.
Recently, though, Democrats (along with a few Republicans) have seemed more inclined to enact temporary measures to stimulate the economy, despite lingering worries about the deficit and constant GOP criticism of the stimulus bill. Perhaps they've gotten the message from the phone calls, e-mails and letters coming from anxious constituents back home. Or perhaps Dems have begun to worry about their own employment prospects: Headed into midterm elections in November 2010, Democratic members of the House and Senate fear that rising unemployment could make them tempting targets.
They should be worried. Voters always hold a bad economy against the party in power when they go to the polls.
That's among the reasons the White House is asking Congress to give Social Security recipients one-time checks of $250, pondering an extension of the first-time homebuyers' tax credit, and considering an idea that's been around a long time: tax credits for businesses that hire new employees. According to supporters, the tax credits could boost hiring by as many as 2 million jobs in the first year. (And it has a political bonus: Republicans would probably support it enthusiastically.)
All sound like good temporary fixes for an economy still struggling to find its footing. Each proposal will cost money, but doing nothing to help struggling Americans will be costly, too. Voters anxious about the immediate future are unlikely to grant support to the big transformative issues on Obama's agenda, from reforming health care to curbing carbon emissions. So it's in the Democrats' political interest to find a way to pass a few mini-stimulus bills.
Cynthia Tucker is the 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the opinion page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Reach her at email@example.com.