Monday, August 23, 2010

The wrong speech

President Obama is scheduled to give a national address on Iraq next week. That's not the speech he should give. Iraq is yesterday's news. Americans are worried about the state of the economy--more worried than we were six months ago. That's the issue that the President should address. Here's what I'd like him to say:

My fellow Americans, you don't need me to tell you that our economy remains in tough shape. Although we are recovering from the recession, the pace of recovery is much too slow. Millions of Americans have been out of work for months, with little prospect of getting new jobs in the near future. Hundreds of thousands of homeowners are still facing the threat of foreclosure. Tens of thousands of business owners worry about whether their shops and factories and farms can survive. Cities and towns across the nation are laying off teachers, police and firefighters--people who provide essential public services.

At the same time, there is much that needs to be done in this nation. We have half a million bridges that need to be rebuilt or repaired. We have thousands of dams that are in states of disrepair. Our roads need to be maintained and upgraded. Our electrical grid is not well constructed for the diverse sources of clean power that we need to bring on line in the next few years. We are buying millions and millions of barrels of oil from other countries, and some of them have supported forces that have tried to do harm to the United States; we need to learn to use less oil. We lack the broadband Internet capacity of many nations with which we compete. While we have started on high-speed rail lines, we need thousands of miles more track that can take the trans that have been commonplace in Europe and China for years.

In 2009, Congress passed the American Reconstruction and Recovery Act, the stimulus package. That program has been a great help. It has saved or created more than two million jobs. It has supported programs to rebuild America. But it is not enough. The stimulus was designed to spur the economy for two years; that time is expiring. The truth is, government needs to do much more to help our economy get rolling again.

Government needs to take on that role, because private enterprise is not. Businesses are not creating enough jobs. They are not investing enough in out future prosperity. There are banks--many of them the very ones that were baled out with billions or our taxpayer dollars--that are holding on to huge profits, but not lending to businesses or homeowners. There are large corporations sitting on large profits that they could be using to modernize plants, develop new lines of products and hire new workers. There are small businesses that simply cannot afford to expand or to hire. Whatever the reasons for this behavior, the evidence is clear: private business is not moving our economy forward fast enough.

Government can help. As the Reinvestment and Recovery Act has shown, public investment can create and preserve jobs. It can meet important public needs. It can inspire new investment. That is why I am calling on Congress to enact a stimulus package of $750 billion before April 15, 2011, and another of equal size by April 15, 2012. As part of those packages, I call on Congress to dedicate at least one third of the amount appropriated to rebuilding and extending our infrastructure.

This money must be directed to America's needs, not to the well-being of individual politicians. It must be used to improve our public works and public ways, to inspiring private investment, to retain jobs in pubic services and to inspire private enterprises to hire more Americans.

Some of you will be concerned that this program will increase the deficit. Even though our economy has not been progressing as strongly as it could, many voices have been raised to call for reducing the deficit now. It' is true that the federal deficit is a serious problem. I do not mean to suggest otherwise. Simply put, we need to reduce the deficit substantially.

But the deficit is a chronic problem, while the current economic situation creates an immediate need that demands work now. It's like this: suppose a patient who has cancer also develops pneumonia. The cancer needs to be treated, but if the doctors do not work at once to cure the pneumonia, the patient will die before the cancer can harm him. The deficit is like that cancer: it demands to be treated, but first we have to deal with the economic need that we face now.

Accordingly, following two years in which we use government resources to move our economy forward, it will be time to begin to reduce the federal deficit, not just by a small amount, and not just for one or two years, but for as long as it takes to bring it under control. That will require hard work and hard choices. It may seem an impossible task, but remember that that is what we did in the 1990's, when for several years the government ran surpluses that permitted us to pay down the federal debt. We can do that again, and we can do it without placing the burden of deficit reduction on those who can least afford it. But we cannot do that with an economy that is weak.

As you know, voters will go to the polls on November 2nd. I suspect some will say that the election this year should be a referendum on the plan I have outlined tonight. That is fine with me. Let those who argue against using government to move us forward explain how they would create jobs. Let them tell people who are out of work how they will get them back to earning paychecks. Let them tell us all how they will keep our bridges from falling down and our dams from breaking. Let them tell homeowners how they can avoid losing their homes to foreclosure. Let them tell teachers and firefighters and policemen how they will be able to keep on serving our communities. Let them tell the American people how long we can afford to let our nation's economy stagnate. Let the debate begin.

1 comment:

Minstrel Boy said...

Absolutely right on