Nov 9, 2009

It's the Economy... it's always the economy.

Now that the dust from the off-year elections has settled with both sides declaring victory, we can look back at the last year with a little clarity. Let's face it -- this has not been a great year for Barack Obama or the Democratic Party. They made a very gutsy move by tackling the largest and most difficult pieces of the president's agenda, the health care and climate bills that are currently facing a difficult battle in the Senate.

The Democratic supermajority is actually a supermajority in name only. To obtain the 60 votes needed to end debate and bring a bill to an up-or-down vote, the Democrats depend on the votes of people like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, both technically Democrats who are know for their conservative credentials. This means that any bill proposed and passed by the Democrats cannot be a radical, leftist, or socialist piece of legislation, but must be a compromise among a diverse number of viewpoints ranging from socialism (Independent Senator Bernie Sanders) to what is basically a Republican in the Democratic caucus (Lieberman).

The necessity for compromise and coalition building makes it difficult to get meaningful legislation through Congress and to president Obama's desk. It will be difficult to convince conservative Democrats and Democrats from resource-producing states to sign on to Cap-and-Trade legislation, for example. The positive impacts of such sweeping legislation might not be felt for more than a decade. In a political system and media environment where the campaign never stops, the party is in need of some solid legislation and new ideological footing to give in the momentum to win in the 2010 midterms and in 2012.

I think the most hopeful issue for Democrats remains the economy. Bill Clinton built his legacy around the economy and he is still the most popular and revered living former President. Exit polling from the off-year elections revealed the economy to be the most important issues to voters at the polls, both in the districts where Democrats won and in the state-wide election losses. And despite the success of the stimulus and the end of the recession, there is still a lot of work to be done.

For the first time during this downturn the unemployment rate crossed the 10% margin, there are 15.7 million Americans who are looking for jobs and unable to find them. Combine that with the number of people who have fallen off of the unemployment rolls or who are underemployed at part-time jobs when they need full time positions and the unemployment rate balloons to over 17%. We need jobs in this country, and we need them now.

Over the next few days I will begin to talk about the infrastructure in the United States, but I would like to propose this solution now: our infrastructure is the key to putting Americans back to work. If we start to rebuild and repair the trillions of dollars worth of infrastructure that needs to be shored up, rebuilt, and modernized, we can not only put new construction jobs on the market, but we can also create a 21st century infrastructure for the commerce and industry of the coming decades to be founded upon. There is a need in this country for seamless universal broadband wireless access, high-speed rail, safe and sturdy bridges, hurricane-safe levies, more efficient roadways, safer and more secure ports, and a modern, efficient nation-wide energy grid that emphasizes clean energy sources.

As it so happens, our surface transportation act is on an extended life right now, being continued by temporary reauthorizations from congress from time-to-time, and a new, current bill is needed to fund the maintenance and repair our infrastructure needs to make it safe for us. Every day school buses cross bridges that are deficient. Every day bicyclists have to ride shoulder-to-sideview mirror with speeding rush-hour traffic. Every day business is impeded because commuters cannot access wireless internet on their Amtrak or commuter train ride to work. These are all problems that an investment of public money should be repairing now.

By solving these problems we'll also be taking a big step to fueling a new period of economic growth and American prosperity. And the exit polls from the recent elections suggests that there is plenty of political will in the minds of the electorate to make it happen now.

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