WASHINGTON -- With the economy showing new signs of weakness, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was virtually begging Congress this week to act.
His pleas have become a familiar litany in his frequent appearances on Capital Hill, but have fallen on deaf ears. The only branch of government that has the constitutional authority to reform fiscal policy to get the economy moving is irretrievably locked into a state of political paralysis until at least the November elections.
Making matters worse, President Obama hasn't a clue about how to lead our country out of its deepening slump, let alone move Congress to action. His own impotent, warmed-over proposals have been discarded even by his own party.
Obsessed with his own imperiled re-election, Obama has little if anything to say about the state of the economy, except to acknowledge that "it's tough out there" and that too many people "are still out of work."
He's made no serious proposals to get the economy growing again, and he's offered no agenda to do so if he is re-elected. Democratic leaders remain mute about higher jobless levels and near-recessionary economic growth that is now below 2 percent of GDP.
If that's not bad enough, Obama has thrown up further political obstacles to stronger growth -- namely, his threat to veto any tax-cut extension bill that does not raise taxes on wealthier Americans, small business and investors.
And it isn't just his rival Mitt Romney and Republicans in Congress who think this doesn't make economic sense.
Former President Bill Clinton, clearly the most popular Democrat in his party, has warned Obama and Democrats in Congress that this is the worst thing they could do to the economy at this time.
"What I think we need to do is to find some way to avoid the fiscal cliff, to avoid doing anything that would contract the economy now," Clinton told Wall Street analyst Maria Bartiromo on CNBC last month.
Instead, Clinton said, Congress should "deal with what's necessary in the long-term debt-reduction plan as soon as they can, which presumably will be after the election."
When asked if this means extending all of the Bush tax cuts for the time being, Clinton said: "They will probably have to put everything off until early next year. That's probably the best thing to do right now."
Similarly urging Congress to "do no harm," Bernanke told lawmakers Tuesday it's imperative they take action to prevent sweeping end-of-the-year tax hikes or severe spending cuts that would push the economy into another recession.
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