Monday, August 8, 2011

How about some change we can believe in

On the first market day following S&P's downgrade of U.S. debt, the world looked to Washington for leadership and confidence. Instead, the world got a few minutes of dispiriting remarks from a President that is clearly in over his head.
On Friday, we learned that the United States received a downgrade by one of the credit rating agencies -- not so much because they doubt our ability to pay our debt if we make good decisions, but because after witnessing a month of wrangling over raising the debt ceiling, they doubted our political system’s ability to act. The markets, on the other hand, continue to believe our credit status is AAA. In fact, Warren Buffett, who knows a thing or two about good investments, said, “If there were a quadruple-A rating, I’d give the United States that.” I, and most of the world’s investors, agree.
Investors didn't agree. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which was already down about 400 points when the President went on the air, dropped another 200 points in the final two hours of trading.

Investors and the rest of the world were surely looking for concrete steps to stem the crisis. Instead, the President used the White House stage to chide Congress for its intransigence and to make a vague call for change. At the same time, the President revealed that he had nothing to offer beyond some empty words.

Given the crisis that we are facing, Congress should immediately call itself back into session. The President and Congress should then take the following steps to improve the economy and restore confidence:
  • Ratify the outstanding free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Columbia that Republicans want and the extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance that Democrats want. The President and Congress appear to have an agreement for these four pieces of legislation to begin moving forward in September, but why not remove all uncertainty and pass the package now?
  • Negotiate an agreement for and pass the fiscal year 2012 federal budget. The budget should include a continuation of the 99-week unemployment benefits.
  • Complete and pass the two-year bipartisan transportation reauthorization that has been negotiated by Senators Barbara Boxer and James Inhofe.
  • Negotiate and pass the long-term reauthorizations of the FAA, No Child Left Behind, and a host of other bills stalled by partisan infighting.
  • Drop all single-senator holds on the President's nominees and hold votes on the nominees' confirmations.
None of these actions would be a magic bullet. However, action on each is needed, could make modest improvements to the country's economic functioning, and is achievable in short order. Despite their "small ball" nature, completion of each would be a vast improvement over lurching from one self-inflicted crisis to the next.