The Lousy Economy: Washington's Failure

The U.S. economy contracted in the first three months of 2014, according to revised figures issued by the Commerce Department, declining at an annual rate of 1 percent. With the economy expected to bounce back in the second quarter -- April to June -- the downturn received little attention, dismissed as "a hiccup, not a heart attack."

But at Republican campaign committee headquarters, Champagne bottles surely were popped in celebration. The Republican strategy of obstructing any measure that would put people back to work is succeeding. More than 20 million people are in need of full-time work. Wages aren't keeping up with the costs of necessities. Two-thirds of the people sensibly think the economy is on the wrong track. And Republican prospects to capture the majority of the Senate and consolidate their hold on the House look increasingly bright.

"Where are the jobs," House Speaker John Boehner repeats. Democrats, Republicans will charge, are waging war on women, millennials and people of color, all of whom suffer under this lousy economy. Republicans will run railing against the misery that their obstruction has helped to cause.

Of course, Republicans don't admit to this strategy. House leaders brag about bills they've passed that would cut back regulations, or mandate the construction of the Keystone Pipeline. George Will just contrasted Obama with Reagan's roll back of regulation, suggesting that was central to the Reagan recovery. He didn't bother to mention that Reagan doubled the military budget in peacetime, a massive public works program, while running massive deficits that tripled the national debt. Deficit-funded public works is exactly the strategy that Republicans have sabotaged in the Congress.

Their cynical strategy is aided and abetted by the White House and Democratic legislators. They have failed to fight constantly for jobs measures, which at least would expose how Republicans are standing in the way.

Many apparently are counting on a "recovery summer," repeating the White House folly from 2010. The first quarter decline is blamed on Mother Nature. But even without the deep freeze in the Midwest, growth might have reached 1.5 percent, barely showing a pulse. But no worry, the White House assures, growth in April to June looks to be reviving, possibly at 3 or 4 percent. A more robust recovery is ever around the corner.

As we near the end of the fifth year of the official "recovery," most Americans have yet to feel it. Sure, the stock market is setting new records; CEO salaries are up; corporate profits are doing fine. But Americans are dealing with stagnant pay, lousy jobs, and young people moving back home because they can't afford anything else.

Where will the more rapid growth come from? Exports won't take off, as Europe continues to stagnate and China slows. States have begun to spend more as revenues recover, but the federal budget cuts don't help. Americans are getting priced out of housing. Will Americans take on more debt to increase consumer spending? Is that hope the basis of recovery summer?

The current stale, male and pale reactionary Republican Party is not an attractive alternative to most Americans. They get it. In Republican trickle down economics, as Texas Populist Jim Hightower puts it, workaday Americans are the hydrant. But the lousy economy, the sense that Washington is AWOL, the failure of hope will cause a lot of people to check out and stay home.

Democrats are increasingly turning to populist memes to fill this void. The Senate is rolling out its "fair shot" agenda -- raise the minimum wage, pay equity, paid family leave. Senate leaders will push the Elizabeth Warren initiative to let Americans refinance student loans to 3.8 percent, making a difference to millions of young and not so young workers burdened by their student debts. Republican obstruction of reforms help Americans understand who is on their side and who isn't.

But Republicans have every reason to think their obstruction strategy is working. The economy doesn't work for working people. And even popular populist measures may not be enough to counter that grim reality.