Last week, the economy showed more evidence that the Administration's economic stimulus programs, rescue of the auto industry, investments in clean energy, extension of unemployment compensation, past aid to the states and other measures are beginning to lead to job growth. In March, the economy added 219,000 new jobs - bringing total private sector job growth to 1.8 million in the last 13 months.
This rate of job growth is far short of what is needed to return us to full employment - or even the more modest levels of unemployment that preceded Bush's Great Recession. But Obama's 1.8 million new jobs is 1.8 million more than the zero net private sector jobs created in the eight years of the Bush Administration using the Republican program of tax cuts for the rich.
The first decade of this century was also the first decade in our economic history that experienced no private sector job growth whatsoever. You'd think that this great experiment in trickle down economics would be enough to convince anyone with more than five brain cells to string together that trickle down economics doesn't work - but apparently not.
Republicans in Congress are still demanding that $61 billion be cut from this years' budget - halfway through the fiscal year. If they are successful, Moody's economic forecasting firm - and their economist Marc Zandi, who was an advisor to Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain - predicts that it would result in the elimination of 700,000 jobs in the United States.
And now House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan has proposed a 2012 budget that would do even more to slam the middle class. He proposes eliminating Medicare and Medicaid and replacing them with programs that reduce health care coverage for seniors at the same time they provide a windfall for the big insurance companies.
Why do Republicans persist in demanding that we eliminate 700,000 jobs? It has to do with the influence of four major groups:
1). The CEO/Wall Street Class. Much of America's economic royalty - which is the major base of the Republican Party - is focused exclusively on what you could call short-term greed. They want their taxes to fall as far as possible. They want Government to stop trying to regulate their reckless behavior - producing unsafe products, fouling our air and water, out of control speculation.
Many of this gang believe that if they can make enough money - for them anyway -- the future will simply take care of itself. Whether or not jobs of ordinary Americans will disappear is of relatively little interest to them. They want government to be as small a factor in our lives as possible - except of course to the extent that government contracts or privatization of government services can feed their bottom lines.
And their loyalty to America is not so great anyway. They run international corporations with offices and assets all over the world.
Climate change, uneducated kids, children who die young, people unable to get health insurance - these may be unfortunate consequences of the policies needed to allow them to get richer and richer - but, they would insist - the future belongs to the strong anyway.
The hard core of this group is not populated with what you'd call the upper middle class - although a lot of upper middle class people aspire to join this exclusive club. This crowd is made up of economic royalty - people making a million plus - sometime multi-billion (with a "B") dollar annual incomes.
2). The second influential group pushing for policies that would eliminate 700,000 jobs are the intellectuals and academics who work for the first group. And I do mean "work for." Guys like the billion-dollar right wing Koch brothers literally pay "think tanks" and "foundations" all over America to churn out reports and studies that basically argue that up is down and black is white. They create the intellectual structure to dress up the economic self-interest of the wealthiest Americans in respectable academic clothing. They tell us there is no "scientific consensus" about climate change. They create economic theories to support their contention that Keynesian economic policies don't work and that we need to turn instead to austerity policies and low taxes to give business the "incentive" to produce and invest.
Of course what business really needs to begin investing the two trillion dollars of cash on its balance sheets are customers with money in their pockets who want to buy their products. They need economic "demand." But there's no real room in right wing economic theory for such bottom-up economic concepts - and the right wing intellectual team is ready and willing to be paid to tell you so.
3). Many in the third group actually understand the budget-slashing proposals being made by Republicans in the house would cut massive numbers of jobs. This group is the Republican political class - and they would be happy as pigs in slop to eliminate those jobs. The last thing they want is for the economy to improve. If the economy fell into a second recession, they think that would be the best thing that could happen since bottled beer. As Rush Limbaugh put it, they want Obama to fail.
4). Of course the final - and most visible -- group clamoring for draconian cuts that would cost 700,000 American their jobs is the Tea Party, and the many far-right members of the Republican caucus that they helped elect last year. Many of these extremist Members of Congress actually believe that the voters sent them to Washington to "shrink government." Of course the Tea Party - and its corporate sponsors -- did exactly that. But the vast majority of swing voters that helped elect them were simply furious that their own personal economic situations seemed to be getting worse and worse. The real reason for this problem is that all of the economic growth of the last two decades has gone to the top 2% of the population. Middle class incomes have not kept up with the increased productivity of the economy, and everyday people are falling further and further behind as a result.
Anyway, these extremist Republicans believe their own spin. And they are willing to administer the harsh medicine of austerity and job losses to give "shock treatment" to the country and shrink the size of government no matter who it hurts. As House Speaker John Boehner said when he was asked about job losses that would result from his program of budget cuts - "So be it."
But this gang has a real problem.
When you were a kid at a Fourth of July celebration, remember how fascinated you were by sparklers? They erupt in a bright flash of sparkles and light up everything around - for about 3 minutes. Then, as they begin to burn down, they fizzle out and then suddenly, everything is dark.
In your hand where once was a bright shiny sparkler, you are holding a dark, blackened, slightly-twisted six-inch strand of wire.
Well, that's what's happening to the Tea Party. To put it bluntly: the Party's over.
Last week, a pathetically small crowd of 200 came to the Mall to hear Congressman Mike Pence repeat over and over that he is willing to shut down the government if they don't get the cuts that - as Republican economist Marc Zandi says - would cost 700,000 American jobs.
Compare that 200 to the hundred-thousand-strong crowds that have gathered to protest the attacks on collective bargaining by extremist Republican Scott Walker in Wisconsin.
Now, as my wife Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky says, Democrats in Congress have to have the "courage to follow."
Democrats have to follow the newly-mobilized union members in Wisconsin - the 81% of Americans who say that the way to solve the federal budget shortfall is by taxing millionaires - the big majorities who oppose cutting funding for education, Head Start, nutrition programs, health care, Medicare, Social Security and police and fire protection - so that the Republicans can keep giving subsidies to big oil companies or tax breaks for the rich.
Democrats need to once again get out of a defensive crouch on budget issues --follow everyday Americans and oppose budget cuts that would cost 700,000 American their jobs.
At the end of the day - because the Republicans won control of the House - we will have to live with some compromise that inflicts some level of damage on America's middle class in order to keep the Government functioning. But we don't have to make it easy - and we sure should not try to pretend that we agree that "bloated government spending should be cut." We can't afford to pander to that right wing notion - or to allow the debate to stay in their frame. Right now, in particular, as the fragile economic recovery begins to take hold, we need more government spending not less. And we need to make clear that the choices are not between controlling the long term deficit and economic catastrophe. The numbers are clear. Bill Clinton gave the country surpluses as far as the eye could see by raising taxes on the wealthy.
We could balance the budget over the long haul without cutting programs that benefit the middle class by raising rates on the wealthy to levels below the highest rate under Ronald Reagan, treat "capital gains" as "ordinary income", cut modest amounts of military spending, require Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for cheaper prices, control health care costs with a Public Option, and eliminate "tax expenditures" like subsidies to big oil.
We need to make it clear that the budget debate is about choices - moral choices about what is important, who should pay and who should sacrifice. The question is simple: Do Americans want to cut education and all the rest in order to give tax breaks to the wealthy and big corporations? America's answer to that question in poll after poll is a resounding no. Americans want to invest in their future, not cater to the short-term greed of our home-grown class of economic royals whose answer to the pain of middle class people is the modern-day equivalent of "let them eat cake."
The Republicans thought that the budget debate would give them the high political ground. That's why they were willing to go so far out on an extremist precipice. Now the political ground is beginning to crumble - and it's a long way down.