Could we be headed for a double-dip recession? The numbers on employment, sales, and other indicators suggest the recovery is shaky at best. Unemployment is holding steady at 10 percent, and retail sales were actually down .2 percent in December compared to the previous month. And when it comes to the confidence of the American people that the country is headed in the right direction, those numbers have declined significantly from the spring. A recent poll by the National Journal shows 55 percent of Americans believe that things are going the wrong way, compared with 42 percent who thought so in April.
It all adds up to a scary scenario: Americans unable or afraid to spend, leading to little growth opportunities for the economy as a whole. We may technically be out of the recession, but the current 2.2 percent annual GDP growth rate is so anemic, many things could cause it to slip precipitously. This is bad news for the American people -- and for the leadership in Washington. Congress passed a job stimulus that failed to create jobs, then diverted its attention to passing a massive restructuring of the U.S. health care system, which only a minority of Americans support. Meanwhile, the president has remained aloof from the process, only stepping in to try to shape the legislation at the 11th hour as Senate and House conferees bicker over its final shape.
So what could the president and Congress do that might have some positive effect on the economy? First, they could admit that the health care bill they're trying to force down the American public's throat is the wrong medicine at the wrong time. Instead of meeting in secret and securing necessary votes by bribing members of Congress who are reluctant to go along, the president and congressional leadership should convene a joint press conference to announce they're putting the legislation on hold for the time being.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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