The bigger problem

It’s not the national debt, it’s mass unemployment

Let’s be clear about the national debt: The person most responsible for it isn’t Barack Obama; it’s George W. Bush. When Bush was elected, the debt was $5.8 trillion; when he left office, it was $11.9 trillion. That’s a difference of $6.1 trillion, nearly half of the current $14.3 trillion debt. And it was run up with the ready compliance of the Republicans in Congress, who started two off-the-books wars, approved two massive tax cuts geared toward the rich, and created an unfunded Medicare drug program.

And now they’re blaming Obama, who’s added a comparatively modest $2.4 trillion to the debt, nearly half of it stimulus to counteract the economic disaster he inherited from Bush.

Worse, the Republicans in Congress have been taken over by a gang of right-wing extremists willing to drive the country off a cliff to get their way. Look at what’s happened as a result of the reckless debt-ceiling brinkmanship they caused: a profound diminishment of America’s reputation in the world, international insecurity resulting in a wildly erratic stock market, and a downgrading of America’s credit rating. Imagine what would have happened had a debt-ceiling bill not passed.

The irony is that the debt isn’t the real issue. Yes, it’s a long-term problem, but right now the United States has more than enough money to pay its bills. Interest rates are low, and investors are happy to buy T-bills. As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich puts it, “We’re the richest nation in the world and we print the money the world relies on.”

The real problem is jobs and economic recovery. Unless and until more people are back at work, the recovery will continue to stall. Unfortunately, President Obama has allowed the Tea Party to hijack the issue and make deficits and debt the big problem, not mass unemployment. He needs to turn that around, and the only way he can do so is by taking his case to the American people.