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Matthews: We need to concentrate on jobs

Let me finish with a powerful word: jobs!I spent a good deal of my life working in the U.S.

Let me finish with a powerful word: jobs!

I spent a good deal of my life working in the U.S. Senate, then in the White House, then for a legendary Speaker of the House. One thing we concentrated on was jobs!

One of my first jobs was working for a Senator in Utah. I was counting up the public works and economic development projects that were shovel-ready if the government would approve them. Jobs that put people to work doing things that needed doing - not leaf-raking - but getting roads fixed and bridges up to code - getting sewer and water systems in place.

When I worked for Tip O'Neill, the Republican leader complained that a jobs bill the Democrats were pushing was make-work. I called up the chief engineer in his district and got the names and addresses of the bridges below code. The Speaker read that list aloud on the floor of Congress. It upset the Republican leader but it made a point: there's good work out there that needs to be done and this is a good time to get going on it.

"If not now, when?" The president asked that today about the debt ceiling. "If not now, when?" 

We could demand the same of our politicians about jobs. That "stimulus" bill they passed two years ago ain't very stimulating, not because it was too big, but because it was a pipsqueak. After you've taken out the tax cuts in it, the amount that actually goes to job creation - real public investment spending - comes to about one percent of the economy. One percent. No wonder the stimulus ran out of juice.  It never had much to begin with.

I read Paul Krugman's column in The New York Times today. He makes a great point: the government has fewer people working for it than it did when President Obama came into office. So we've got no real money going into public works, no money going into public service jobs, and you've got your explanation of why we've got a 9.2 percent unemployment rate.

I like the fact that the president is trying to compromise with the Republicans who control the House. But one of the big delusions is always that the truth - the smart policy - is somewhere in the middle between the two sides being argued.  

Maybe we have to go back to old-style partisan politics on this. You know, like getting the list together of all the bridges below code in John Boehner's district - or Eric Cantor's - or Kevin McCarthy's. Maybe the smart policy is the smart politics - put a little heat under their butts.